Softball Gold

Team McKenzie tops Team Columbia at NVWG

Team McKenzie tops Team Columbia at NVWG

Tonie Byrd did her job.

She was Team McKenzie’s RBI machine Thursday night.

The Navy veteran recorded all three of Team McKenzie’s RBIs and helped lift them to a 3-2 victory over Team Columbia in the 2023 National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG) softball championship gold-medal game at the Portland Convention Center in Portland, Ore.

First, she recorded a two-RBI groundout in the top of the first inning, scoring Jackie Jones Jr., and Russ Norris, to give Team McKenzie a 2-0 lead.

Then, the 51-year-old Ashland, Ohio, resident added an RBI single in the top of the fifth, scoring Norris from first base. That put Team McKenzie in front and proved to be the difference.

Team McKenzie players celebrate after winning the 2023 National Veterans Wheelchair Games softball gold-medal game Thursday night at the Portland Convention Center in Portland, Ore. (Photo by John Groth).


“I bring my boys in,” says Byrd, who served from 1990 to 1994 as a dispersing clerk and is a below-the-right-knee amputee who was injured in a 2007 Georgia motor vehicle accident. “I think it’s just because how I’m sitting now, you know, because I’m sitting. I used to be able to just like whack it up and now it’s just like straight, so it just gets it out in the field for the guys to run in.”

Team McKenzie finished undefeated, winning all three of its games — including the first two (10-1 over Team Crooked and 11-2 over Team Deschutes) by nine runs each. Teams were named after Oregon rivers. Team Columbia went 2-1, defeating Team Willamette, 19-1, and rallying for a 9-8 win over Team Rogue in the semifinals.

Byrd’s first-inning groundout gave the team a big boost, especially after pitcher Kevin Patton was thrown out at home plate the play before after trying to score from second base. He and Team Columbia catcher Johnny Sandoval Jr., had a wheelchair-rugby-style collision at the plate, with Sandoval going airborne a little. But he still hung onto the ball, and Patton was called out.

Sandoval stayed in the game, and Byrd followed by driving two runs in with a hard-hit grounder.

Byrd’s no stranger to softball. She’s been playing for years and ever since she started going to the NVWG in 2018. She also made the inaugural NVWG All-Star Team last year, getting to play in the Wheelchair Softball World Series, along with Jones, Norris, Jesse Lind, Sandoval and others, last year.

The Paralyzed Veterans of America Buckeye Chapter member enjoyed playing with some of those all-stars — and against some this year, too.

“I think it was a little different and our all-stars were split up this year, so we had to compete against our all-stars that we rely and trusted on last year,” Byrd says. “So, it was kind of fun ’cause we got to do that rival thing with them.”

It was a tight game throughout.

Team Columbia didn’t get going until the third inning.

After Ryan Garza doubled to open the bottom of the third, Vinnie Webber cut the deficit to 2-1 with an RBI single. Then, after Sandi Braunstein had an infield single and Sandoval walked, John Wade Jr., added an RBI groundout, scoring Webber to tie the game at 2-2.

Team Columbia had a few other chances, but Team McKenzie’s defense shut them down. Team Columbia’s Jeff DeLeon singled in the bottom of the fifth, but Derrick Trentin hit into a double play. Then, in the sixth, after Carl Morgan singled, Garza lined out to Lind at first base, and he tagged the base to get Morgan out for another double play.

Team Columbia had one more chance in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs, Patton issued back-to-back walks to Wade and Richard Robbins, but got Kevin Hoy to ground out to end the game.

Team McKenzie won the 2023 National Veterans Wheelchair Games softball title, defeating Team Columbia 3-2 in Thursday night’s gold-medal game at the Portland Convention Center in Portland, Ore. (Photo by John Groth).


An Air Force veteran, the 58-year-old Patton served from 1982 to 1987 as surgical technician and sustained a level T1-L1 spinal-cord injury in an automobile accident in August 1985. He’s played wheelchair softball since 2007. He credited the team’s defense for the win.

“Marco [Bungert], Jones, all of them, our infield had great hands. I just had to pitch it, and they backed me up. We were a unit. We played well together all the way. Everybody played their positions. We came together as a unit from the first day. Everybody understood their positions and just played their game.”

Patton has been to three Wheelchair Softball World Series before, and now he’ll be going to a fourth. He was one of 19 wheelchair athletes, along with Lind, Jones, DeLeon, Norris and others to be selected by players to make the 2023 NVWG All-Star Team. Players were selected by their peers based on their athleticism and sportsmanship on the field.

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