Sweet Home Codger brings home gold medal

By Sarah Brown
Of The New Era/Lebanon Local

If there’s anything Larry Horton wants readers to take away from his story, it would be this:

“Follow your passions, keep moving and stay healthy.”

Horton, 73, does just that by competing every year in the softball world championships at the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah. This year, his team, the Codgers, won the gold medal in the C Division 74-plus (age) for going undefeated in the medals round of the week-long tournament.

“It was an amazing year,” Horton said. “It was one that none of us will ever forget.”

The only one on his team from Sweet Home, Horton this year coached the players (he wasn’t old enough to play) that consisted of men from Lebanon, Eugene, Washington, California and Utah.

“I think it’s interesting that our players come from all over the northwest,” he said.

But the Codgers only play together one week out of the year. During the rest of the season, Horton plays in a Eugene travel league, moving up and down the I-5 corridor to play ball on fields between Vancouver and Medford.

Horton has been playing baseball and softball since he was 8 years old. The former superintendent for the Sweet Home School District was born and raised in Oklahoma. Growing up without a father, he looked to his grandfather for guidance.

“My grandfather was kind of my hero that I looked to,” he said. “He’s the one that kind of got me to start throwing the ball and getting interested in playing ball.”

That’s because his grandfather played semi-pro baseball in his younger years. But Horton also likes to think his proximity to Mickey Mantle also may have played a role in his love of the sport. Not only was Horton born seven miles from where Mantle, himself, was born, but Horton’s mother double-dated with Mantle while attending high school.

Larry Horton, holding the ball, speaks to his team during the tournament in Utah.

Now, as an old “codger,” Horton has wrapped up his 18th year participating in the World Senior Games. He originally had a goal to continue participating to the age of 75, but recently took the eraser to that number and changed it to age 80.

A few thousand players as young as 50 and well into their 80s from North America – including Puerto Rico, Mexico and Canada – attend the tournaments every year.

“It’s mainly for people that are older and active and want to get together and have a good time, and still want to compete,” Horton said.

His team, perhaps not so competitive as some, play in the lowest category, the C Division. But with their recent win, Horton said he won’t be surprised if the Codgers are placed in the A Division next year.

“This year was the most competitive we’ve ever been,” he said. “We averaged over 20 runs every game, and that’s unheard of; but it was an unheard of year.”

Horton said one of the things he enjoys most about the game is the friendships he makes, but he’s also grateful for the fact he can still play competitively at his age.

“A lot of people aren’t doing this at this age,” he said. “I’m really thankful to be able to continue to keep playing. Playing softball, it definitely develops a lot of team camaraderie. It’s a really good way for seniors to stay active, to stay connected and to keep friends close.”

For him, the Codgers are family.

Anyone interested in joining a senior softball team can contact Larry for more information at 541.619.2683. Or, he said, they can join a recreation league team in Eugene.

“I think it’s really important for seniors to remain active and to continue following their passions and what they enjoy doing. I think it keeps all of us healthier and adds to the quality of our lives.”