As young athletes, many consider themselves to be invincible, not thinking of a time when they will no longer be able to play their beloved sport. But there are some athletes who withstand the test of time, taking the field year after year with the determination to keep going — no matter what the age.
That is exactly what Columbia’s Cyndi Kelly has done.
Trailblazing the sport of softball for more than five decades, the soon to be 64-year-old retired Waterloo High School guidance counselor plays on the No. 1 ranked senior softball team in the country.
With more than 20 teams and 15 titles and awards under her belt, Kelly continues to play in open leagues at Fenton and Forest Park, all while keeping her main gig as a member of the Senior Softball U.S.A. “Fun Bunch” traveling team at the forefront. This allows her to keep playing the game she loves, while retaining an active lifestyle.
“It’s kind of sad when you get to my age or before,” Kelly said. “It’s kind of sad to see people who were better athletes when we were young, who can’t do it anymore.”
And dealing with the death of teammates is something many athletes never even dream of, but it can be a sad reality. Kelly cites an instance where one of her teammates passed away while headed to a tournament. But with that reality check comes the realization that Kelly and her teammates will always have the game, in one way or another.
“The best tournament is one where no one gets hurt,” Kelly says with a laugh, reciting her team’s motto.Senior softball star Cyndi Kelly of Columbia stretches out long to get the out at first base in a tournament in Columbus, Ohio Kelly has received several defensive and MVP awards in her time with the “Fun Bunch.” (submitted photo)
This season so far, Kelly and the Fun Bunch have won four tournaments, one in which Kelly was chosen as the MVP. Last season, her team won the Softball Players Association Inaugural World Series of Senior Softball Championships, and just two years prior Kelly was named to the SPA All-American Team.
Kelly’s team isn’t just a regionally elite team, but one that is made up of players from all over the U.S. and one of her previous seasons with the Fun Bunch featured a player from Canada. In fact, Kelly, a teammate from Kirkwood. Mo., and her coach from Carthage, Mo., are, by far, the three closest team members to the St. Louis area.
“It’s fantastic,” Kelly says, describing how she has played in so many different places with so many different athletes, and how her softball ventures have allowed her to make friends in virtually any place she wants to go.
She and her team have even qualified for the National Senior Games, or the senior olympics, and the Hunstmann World Senior Games, where she has met athletes from other countries, like the members of the Swedish cycling team.
Kelly has not just strived to play sports in retirement, but she has had to fight to be a part of them for most of her life.
As a kid she grew up playing on her brothers’ teams, allowed to attend practices and sit on the bench during contests, but not able to participate in games because she was a girl. It wasn’t until Kelly was 10 that a Khoury League for girls formed in South County, Mo., where she grew up. Even in high school, while attending Lindbergh, there were no organized girls sports.Kelly (top left) is pictured with her “Fun Bunch” teammates in last year’s Pensacola Senior Softball Tourney, where the team took second and she was named top defensive player of the tournament. (submitted photo)
“I grew up playing sports with my brothers,” Kelly said. “I enjoy the competition and the physicality of it.”
Kelly was able to enjoy true competition while playing catcher, shortstop and first base at Southeast Missouri State University.
After college she was hired on at Waterloo High School, where she helped start girls sports in 1972, just before Title IX was enforced a few years later at the prep level.
“That’s one of my proudest accomplishments,” Kelly said. “The most important thing I’ve done is worked with the kids at Waterloo.
“It’s just been a lifetime of fulfillment.”
In order to keep the girls program alive at Waterloo, Kelly made the uniforms herself and also umpired and coached both junior high and high school softball, along with other sports, until 1986 when she became a guidance counselor and her new duties prohibited her from coaching sports. During her coaching years at WHS, Kelly helped lead the girls athletics programs to several conference and regional titles, all while continuing to play the game herself.
The decorated softball star continues to receive recognition for her efforts, as she has received word that she will be nominated in September for the St. Louis Softball Hall of Fame.
Kelly says there are times when she gets sore or feels aches and pains and says to herself, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” But so far, that day hasn’t come.