Recreational sports leagues often come with the idea of kids learning new sports and making friends over apple slices and juice boxes. But there’s another side to these activities, where people of all ages can get together to play the games they love.

The city of Maricopa through Copper Sky Recreation Complex offers adult sports programming throughout the year, including softball, basketball and volleyball. Athletes can come as a team or form one at the beginning of a season, and all experience levels are welcome.

Out on the softball fields on a late summer Friday night, a lot is going on. On one field, teams are already facing off, exerting a lot of competitive energy as they try to top their familiar foes. Meanwhile in the stands, Bailey Nanstiel is handing out uniforms and getting organized so the team is ready to take the field as soon as their time has come.

“Normally everybody just shows up randomly, you make friends right away, then you pick the players,” she said. “We have new people who show up all the time wanting to join a team, and we ask them to come play with us.”

Aaron Romero came off the field victorious as the Tailgaters team he coaches and plays was just ahead as time expired. The game started loose with a lot of laughter but got more serious as it went along. With time limits deciding games instead of a full slate of innings, the urgency only goes up.

But Romero said once the game is over and they step out of the gates, all that competitiveness gets pushed aside to resume friendships that have formed and solidified. That kind of bond is what has kept him coming back to play for 10 years.

“It’s all about the community, seeing these guys over and over again. It’s a great group,” Romero said. “I’ve made a lot of friends here.”

As someone who played baseball when he was in school, Romero found that adult softball was a way to keep connected to the game he loves. It’s not quite the same game, of course. Slow-pitch softball comes with its own set of idiosyncrasies, with high contact rates putting more pressure on the defense than the pitching. But still, it helps keep that important part of his life alive.

More importantly for Romero, it also helps him connect with his family. He participates in the coed league, which meets on Fridays while the all-men’s league is on Mondays. This allows him to play with his wife on the same team, giving them something to have together that a lot of couples don’t. Then there are his kids, who get to see him doing what he loves on the field and get inspired to do the same. Just being around the softball fields with Dad helped get them into baseball.

“This is what I did with my dad,” he said. “I came out to his games and played with the kids around there while my dad played ball. And now my son is following suit, doing the same thing. Kids shouldn’t be in front of the gaming system. They should be playing.”

Ten years ago when Romero started, there were only four or five teams, which limited the variety of opponents throughout an entire season. Now, there are 10 teams playing in just the coed league, enough to have an upper and lower division for skill levels. The new faces keep rolling in, and the longtime players are more than happy to bring them into their teams.

“It’s basically like we’re one big family,” Nanstiel said. “There are some teams that are out here to practice for tournaments and stuff like that, but most of us don’t care. We’re just out here to have fun.”

Seasons for all the different sports last four to six weeks, with a playoff tournament to cap it off. More information on how to join can be found at maricopa-az.gov or my Googling “Copper Sky adult sports.”

The veteran players encourage everyone who is interested but unsure if they would fit in with adult sport programming to just come out to a game, watch and get to know the people involved. They believe once that first contact is made, that people will get hooked.

“If you’re looking to get out, meet new people and have fun, this is where you want to go,” Nanstiel said. “We welcome everybody.”

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