Sports groups put patriotism on display

Holly Dates, foreground, of the Village of Gilchrist and the president of the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club, leads a group of patriotically dressed cyclists.

The smell of salt water with your toes in the warm sand, hot dogs and hamburgers with friends and family in the backyard, fireworks lighting up the night sky — these are all fun traditions on the Fourth of July.  Independence Day is one of the most treasured holidays on the calendar, and that celebration extends beyond the usual traditions. A handful of sports groups and clubs around The Villages have found their own ways to add traditions that put their patriotism on display.

Multiple divisions within The Villages Recreation Softball Leagues, The Villages Running Club and Sumter Landing Bicycle Club are among the sporting groups in The Villages celebrating the holiday together in their

own way.

“We’re trying to do things on the holidays, as much as we can, to make sure everyone has a place to go,” Sumter Landing Bicycle Club president Holly Dates said. “The bike club is a family that looks out for each other.”

Sumter Landing Bicycle Club

On Saturday and Monday, the Sumter Landing Bicycle Club will host rides with a colorful twist of red, white and blue. This year, the club introduced patriotic riding jerseys with stars, stripes and bold-faced USA across the chest, and the club is asking riders to wear those jerseys on group rides to celebrate the Fourth of July. Dates, of the Village of Gilchrist, said the new jerseys have been a big hit so far.

While Saturday’s ride kicks off a patriotic weekend, the bigger bash for the club happens on Monday night. The SLBC is hosting its annual Firecracker Dance at Eisenhower Regional Recreation Center. Members of the group come together for a night filled with fun and food. The club has the gathering catered and will have live entertainment. Dates said the club has held this event since she’s been a part of the group, and her favorite part of the night is when the group comes together and sings Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.”

“We all hold hands and sing it together,” Dates said. “And I don’t think there’s a dry eye in the room.”

Softball Leagues

There is no more apt sport to celebrate America’s birthday than America’s pastime of baseball and softball.

Many of the recreation softball divisions in The Villages have their own traditions. Division 5 always tries to do something special for each holiday, and the Fourth of July is no exception.

Division 5 commissioner Wayne Meyer, of the Village of Chatham, has encouraged everyone in the league to wear patriotic hats and as much red, white and blue as possible during their games today.

In Division 2, the league will also wear stars-and-stripes apparel today. And if a player served in the military, they wear a hat representing their branch of service.

“We’re trying to honor the veterans because of what they put in and what they’ve done for our country,” said Division 2 commissioner Don Brozick, of the Village of Pine Hills. “There’s so many of them here. There’s some people with purple hearts and everything else, that are playing ball now. It’s a thank you to them, too.”

Red, white and blue also will be out in droves throughout the Division 2 schedule. Before the games begin today, the league will pause and play “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which is not usually played before each day of games.

Division 1 gets in on the celebration today as well, stepping away from league play for a Red, White and Blue Tournament. For the past three years, since many Division 1 players are out of town for the holiday weekend, the division holds a special event outside of normal regular-season play. The players in town are split into four teams: One Red, one Blue and two White. For

Division 1 president Doug Goslee, of the Village of Lake Deaton, and the division as a whole, it’s a great way to come together and celebrate.

“We’re just really trying to express how we feel about our country,” Goslee said. “We’re really devoted to our country, and we just want to show it by having a fun tournament where we show off our colors. This country really means a lot to us.”

The Villages Running Club

Many members of The Villages Running Club are celebrating the holiday by doing what they do best — running. A group of club members are traveling to Clermont on Sunday to run in the Clermont Freedom 5K. Club apparel chair Dianne Schultz, of the Village of Caroline, will be running in Clermont with her friend and club social chair Lisa Johnson, of the Village of Hadley.

Schultz said it’s always been a tradition to run on

the holiday.

“Oh, it’s absolutely fun. I’ve always run on the Fourth of July, regardless of where I’ve been,” Schultz said.

Staff Writer Ryan Weiss can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5408, or ryan.weiss@thevillagesmedia.com.