Stettler resident and avid baseball player Fred Bozek has much to be proud of following a two-week stint at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah.
“I love it. And I try to tell the kids, when people are quitting ball at 25 or 30 years of age – hey, keep going!”
This year marked Bozek’s 15th year heading to the Games, and he brought home both a silver and a gold medal.
“It was also a special year in that I got my Huntsman World Senior Games 15-year ring,” he said, adding that in five years, he will be in line to receive an engraved gold watch.
“So I’m looking forward to that – by then I’ll be 82. There are guys there who are 90 to 94 years-of-age who are still playing ball!”
Other categories of sport at the Games run the gamut from volleyball and basketball to golf, horseshoes and pickleball.
For Bozek, his passion for baseball stretches back to when he was just 10.
The appeal largely stems from being part of a team. “It’s the team spirit. To win medals, you’ve got to have teamwork. One person can’t win it – it’s got to be teamwork.”
As a younger fellow, it also helped to keep him out of trouble, he added with a laugh.
“I tell kids, when you play ball, you have no time to get into drugs or mischief because to play ball, you have to keep your wits about you,” he said. “I emphasize to everyone – stay with sports and you will never go wrong.
“I’m sure that had I quit playing ball, I might not be here today. It’s life-changing. It’s unbelievable – and I really mean that.”
Altogether, he has collected three gold medals, six silvers and one bronze with the two teams he’s been a part of over the years at the Games.
Mainly, he played with the Pals – a team he signed on with 15 years ago.
“Then I’ve played with the 75-plus these past few years, in a team called the Muggn’z,” he explained.
The Huntsman World Senior Games, as it is known today, began in 1987 as the World Senior Games, an international senior sports competition, according to the web site.
More than 20,000 attend the Games. And this month, there were 450 ball teams taking part.
They are categorized in age increments of five (50-plus, 55-plus all the way up to 89-plus). In fact, there are very fit 90-year-olds hitting the ball diamonds that could very well beat some local 40-year-olds, he added with a laugh.
The Games were founded by Daisy and John H. Morgan, Jr.
“Both agreed that the golden years were better when good health and physical fitness became a way of life, not an occasional hobby,” notes the web site.
Meanwhile, the Games play host to 30 athletic events each October, attracting athletes from Japan to Russia and from Alaska to Australia.
Of course, it’s not just about the friendly competition.
“Band concerts, dances, and awards socials for each sport are also part of the package, bringing athletes and guests together in a social atmosphere where they share in, and congratulate each other for, their achievements. This important aspect of the Games emphasizes the celebration of success for all participants, whether or not they win a medal.”
For Bozek, the annual trek south has brought such joy to his life.
And he’s quick to encourage others to get onboard.
“Anyone can do it. But if you are going to be playing ball, you had better be a good sport, and get along with your teammates. I’ve played ball with guys who were very good ball players but didn’t have any sportsmanship.
“But I would advise anyone to get involved. You don’t have to be the best ball player – just get in there and have heart and give it your best shot.”
And even though you join teams at the Huntsman Games where you don’t know the bulk of the players, it isn’t long before a tight-knit camaraderie is formed.
That in itself is something that helps to draw Bozek back to St. George year after year.
“You meet friends for a lifetime.”