Jerry Gooch began playing slow-pitch softball intent on having fun with friends while retaining the competitive spirit he had wrestling, playing baseball and running cross country at Minot High School.
On the way home from the 1977 North Dakota Amateur Softball Association Class A state tournament, Gooch felt his Beggar Club team was too focused on competitiveness and the grind was becoming unbearable.
"When we played Class A it was serious," Gooch said. "We played every weekend. If you didn't go, then the team is disciplined. We just wanted to cut back a bit and not play as many tournaments."
Gooch made a pit stop in Jamestown, watched a Minot Class B team play and struck up a conversation with some of the players.
In 1978, he became player-coach of the Saunders Sporting Goods Class B softball team. Thirty-four years later, Gooch, 60, is still playing and coaching.
This weekend, his Kruse's/Coors Light/Bremer Outdoor/Hess team will compete in the NDASA's West Rec III state tournament in Minot.
The team ranges in age from 35 to 61 years old and has three players remaining from the 1978 team. Only two players are under 40 years old and nine are over 50. Together, the 15-man roster has more than 450 years of softball experience - experience that will be put to the test against 47 other teams, many whose rosters include players primarily in their 20s and 30s.
"It's fun playing against younger teams because you know you have to play them well," said Kelby Smith, 61. "They look at us like they think they can beat us, beat these old-timers."
Each team is guaranteed two games and it takes six wins to be crowned champion. This doesn't bother Gooch, who has won five state tournaments and is one of two players on his team enshrined in the NDASA Hall of Fame.
Gooch knows the the road to a championship is tough and his team enters the field as an underdog, but said that regardless of the outcome his team will have fun.
"If we lose it's not the end of the world," he said, "but we do like to win."