You’ll find softballs strewn about Craig and Janet Engelman’s Bay Park home.
“They’re everywhere,” Craig says. “They’re in our car. They’re in our bedroom. They’re in the family room. Dozens.”
Walk into their exercise room, and you’ll see plaques, too. Janet has won eight Old Mission Beach Athletic Club Over-The-Line world championships. Craig’s OMBAC OTL title count: five. He gets grief over trailing his wife for OTL bling.
“I’ve been abused about that for a long time,” Craig says. “Both by Janet and others. No matter how much success I have, it’s never enough. I’m always chasing.”
OMBAC’s 65th World Championship Over-The-Line Tournament commences Saturday at 7:30 a.m. on Fiesta Island. More than 1,200 three-person teams are entered across nine divisions in the softball tournament renowned for its raunchy team names.
While many descend upon Fiesta Island during the tournament to howl at the <FZ,1,0,12>team names, ogle Miss Emerson candidates and consume beer, there are athletes — many of them — who take the softball seriously. Like the Engelmans.
Craig grew up playing sand volleyball in Imperial Beach and picked up OTL as another way to pass hours along the water. At 21, in his first season playing in the tournament, he finished third. A year later, Craig won the world championship with two Imperial Beach friends.
Janet’s OTL roots run even deeper. Her mother, Bonnie, owns 10 OTL world championship titles, all in the century division, where the players’ combined ages must total at least 100.
“I was kind of drug around to tournaments,” says Janet, a Kearny High graduate who played junior events when she was 14. “My mom was really into it.”
Craig and Janet are the only husband-wife team to win world championships in the same year. Both are members of the Over-The-Line Hall of Fame, as is Bonnie.
The couple, in fact, met playing OTL, and knew of each other before they met.
“In the beginning,” Craig says, “I probably knew Janet’s mom better than her.”
For the Engelmans, OTL’s draw is part athletic, part social.
“It keeps you in incredible shape,” says Janet, who works as an assistant to USD Athletic Director Bill McGillis. “It’s kind of like volleyball. You’re in the sand all day long, from sunup to sundown. You have to be in sand shape. That doesn’t happen in one month or two months. You have to work at it all year.”
“Socially, it’s like an extension of our family,” says Craig, who works in marketing analysis.
The Engelmans live the active Southern California lifestyle. They hike and cycle regularly. A home gym provides equipment for weight-resistant exercises. They’ll strap on backpacks loaded with bats and balls, pedal to Mariners Point, pitch each other OTL batting practice, then ride back home.
Craig and Janet played in the world championship tournament for nearly two decades before taking more than 10 years off to focus on raising their two children.
Friends talked them into picking up the sport again last year.
Recalls Janet, “I didn’t even know where my bat was.”
For the Engelmans, playing OTL is apparently like riding a bike. You just don’t forget how to grip a bat, read a defense, rip line drives, and snag them defensively. They played about 10 tournaments last year. In a recent tune-up tournament on Fiesta Island, both played on teams that won the open divisions. That’s impressive, considering Craig is 53 and Janet 50.
“She’s still a great defender,” Craig says. “Moving’s not a problem.”
To many, OTL is that zany San Diego summer ritual. To others, it’s something else.
Says Craig, “It’s a very important component of our life.”
Norcross is a freelance writer.