After 50 years, Will and Juanita Grandstaff's hearts still beat fast for slow pitch
Lebanon's Juanita and Will Grandstaff have competed in more slow-pitch softball games than you can shake a bat at.
Juanita, who was named to the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame in 2010, has played about 4,000 games. Will has coached close to 2,500 games.
As for how they have fared in major championships over the years, Juanita said, "We've played in the ASA (Amateur Softball Association), ISA (Independent Softball Association), USSSA (U.S. Specialty Sports Association) NSA (National Softball Association) and SPA (Seniors Players Association) and won the NSA and SPA three times and the USSSA once and placed in the other two but never won."
It all commenced on a Lebanon softball diamond in the mid-1960s.
Said Will, "I began playing softball after we married. I started in 1966 as a pitcher with Le-Al-Co [Lebanon Aluminum Products]. I probably played five or six years and then went to coaching the women. We started the women's team to keep them off our backs about playing so much softball."
Recollected Juanita, "We did it mostly for fun and turned out we played all the time all over the country. We played 130 games one summer [Note: the Major League Baseball season runs 162 games] and played 14 weekends in a row and went to the ASA World Series."
The women's team, nicknamed the Mustangs, was sponsored over the years by such businesses as Le-Al-Co, Monroe Tools, Nokes Sporting Goods, Staggs Pharmacy and Gann's Body Shop.
Will said, "I coached for 30 years then took about a 10-year break. Then I began coaching a team again and can't get out of it."
Accident forces Juanita to mound
Juanita began her career as an outfielder and played for a year or two and retired briefly to give birth to their daughters, Sherrie, Tracy and Lisa, in 1966, 1967 and 1969, respectively.
When she returned to her favorite game, an accident prompted her to move from the outfield to the mound.
"We were practicing for district tournament, and Donna Macon hit a line drive that struck Marty Bone, our pitcher, in the front teeth and it knocked one of her teeth out. She never pitched again," said Juanita.
"I had never pitched in my life. Will said, 'You're it.'
"We lived at Tuckers Crossroads, and we had a clothesline in the yard. He put up a sheet and took a five-gallon bucket and put it on the ground on the other side of the sheet and showed me how to stop and pitch and hike it about 15 feet and put it in the bucket. We did that for two weeks and went to district and won, and I've been a pitcher ever since."
For several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Grandstaff family made up half a team as Will coached his wife, their three daughters and his sisters, Sara and Nancy. Their daughters, who played softball and basketball at Friendship Christian School, have since presented them with five grandchildren.
Juanita said, "They quit when they had kids and their kids began playing travel ball. Now it's just me by myself."
Still playing 60-plus
More recently, Juanita has been playing on two teams, the Tennessee Stars, for ages 50 and older, but mainly for the Southern Stars, a 60 and older team. Will coaches the 50s squad, composed mostly of women from Middle Tennessee including Wilson Countians Sherrie Chaffin and Pam Dedmon.
This year the Tennessee Stars played in tournaments in Pensacola, Florida; St. Louis, Missouri; as well as Hendersonville, Franklin and Knoxville. In late September, they finished third in the senior women's division in the SPA [Senior Players Association] World Championships in Dalton, Georgia, and earlier this season they won the Tennessee Senior Olympics State tournament, thus they qualified for the nationals next June in Birmingham, Alabama. Juanita and her Southern Stars also qualified.
Tips from the pros
Will said he most enjoys "the instructional part of the game." As for what it takes to win in slow pitch, he noted, "The team has gotta get along, and you got to have some talent. The players have to have some experience. If they haven't played before, you won't cut it."
He reported that in the 1980s and 1990s, the Middle Tennessee area was a hotbed for topnotch women's softball teams. "We had a league with eight teams at Cedar Hill. That league was better than any league in the U.S. We had eight teams that went to the world series."
Juanita, with 4,000 games or so under her belt, has played softball in at least 25 states from California to Texas to Florida.
Offering her top slow-pitching tips, she said, "You gotta practice to get your rhythm down. Focus: Don't let a mistake get you so nervous you can't pitch. You're never gonna keep 'em from hitting, just controlling where they're gonna hit and how hard."
She said she continues to play the game because, "I enjoy the competition. I like to win. I love to watch it, and I love the players I play with -- the fellowship. I make a lot of friends that I wouldn't know otherwise.
"It's almost like an extended family. Some of them I played with and against for so many years. We've gone to baby showers and to funerals together. I miss them in the winter and am happy to see them when March rolls around."
'Most competitive person I know'
Lebanon's Donna Macon has known the Grandstaffs for more than 50 years. Juanita is one of her closest friends, and they played on teams together for more than 35 years. She also played on teams coached by Will more than 20 years.
About his coaching style, Macon said, "He's all coach on the field. When we went into meetings before the game, Will had been spending two hours' time on 'what I'm I gonna do here, what am I gonna do there.' It was all business, but he never ever showed his temper to us."
As for Juanita's skills on the mound, she said, "She's very mild-mannered on the field. She listens to her coaches, whoever they are. She has done this so long, she's a professional at it. She knows all the rules, and they are different in some divisions.
"She knows the players' positions on the fields and where she wants the ball to go. She's very organized in her pitching. She's not in there to throw strikes every time. She places the ball where she wants it to go."
As for competitiveness, Macon said, "On a scale of 1 to 10, she is 11. She's the most competitive person I know."
She added, "This has been all family oriented. She and Will have involved their entire family. Their granddaughter, Aubrey, played on Gordonsville's state tournament-winning softball team two years ago. They took their girls with them and have taken their grandchildren with them."
The Grandstaffs' daughter, Tracy, said of playing on a team with her mom, sisters and aunts with her dad, "I loved it. It was fun. We had a good time and got to spend a lot of time together.
"Mom loves the game more than anybody that I ever met. From her I've learned about drive, how to work hard, the team ethic and how to win and lose gracefully."
As for playing for her dad, she said, "He was tough on us. He expected a lot, but he was proud of us also."
Softball, marriage for decades
Will was born in Lebanon and grew up with four siblings on a farm near Tuckers Crossroads. He graduated from Lebanon High in 1960 where he pitched on the baseball team. Juanita was born in Lewisburg and grew up on a farm with five siblings. She played high school basketball and graduated from Marshall County High in 1962.
Married 52 years, the duo met the second week of Juanita's freshman year at Middle Tennessee State University.
Juanita taught school for 38 years: one year at Shop Springs, half a year at Sam Houston Elementary, eight years at Southside, 25 years at Carroll-Oakland and four years at Friendship. For her efforts she was named Wilson County Teacher of the Year and also W.A. Wright Educator of the Year.
Will worked six-and-a-half years at Production Credit Association and then had a 31½-year-career at Aerostructures in the pricing and finance departments. For the past 15 years, he has operated G&G Landscaping. Juanita works with him in charge of planting and caring for flowers and shrubs with assistance from their daughter, Lisa.
Last week, Juanita and her team played in the Huntsman World Senior Games, the largest senior softball tournament in the world, in St. George, Utah, where more than 25 teams competed in the over-60 category.
And last year, Juanita and her Southern Stars took home the gold medal, while Will's Tennessee Stars brought back silver.
How much longer will Juanita and her contemporaries continue to claim the softball diamond as their home away from home?
Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.