Dulles International Airport was crowded last Friday night when some local softball players arrived at the check-in counter.

They deposited their equipment and luggage and met their teammates with excitement. Some wore Virginia jackets and buttons, one cradled his arm to protect a broken shoulder. Mostly they talked about the tournament and the tough competition ahead of them.

They did not look like the typical ball team leaving for a major tournament. But the gray hair, faint wrinkles and stocky builds were deceiving, for this may be the best team in the area in the 50-and-older age group.

The 16 members of the Northern Virginia Seniors Softball Team were on their way to England, where they will play seven other U.S. teams in the 14-game Pan Am Softball Classic through Oct. 3, in an attempt to boost worldwide interest in the growing sport.

The senior league has been promoting the sport to men and women, age 50 and older, in this area and throughout the United States since 1981. That effort has led the team to tournaments in Pennsylvania, Florida, Detroit and Las Vegas.

The senior softball program started six years ago with just two teams of about a dozen players each. This year it boasts nearly 250 people playing at least twice a week for 10 teams.

All teams play in Fairfax each Tuesday and Thursday in the fall, spring and summer for recreation and fitness. The more competitive players field teams in the evenings as well and play through the winter in indoor facilities. The traveling team is representative of the latter group of men who take the game very seriously.

"We're out there to win," said Domenick Iannelli, an Alexandria resident who has played for the team for three years. "As my wife {Phoebe} says, 'I have a Little League attitude at 62.' "

Mike Foglio, 63, of Arlington played fast pitch softball for about 45 years. Now he is coaching the slow pitch senior team.

"If they {the English} actually see us play, ask us questions and even play some, there is a good chance {the game} will catch on," Foglio said.

His brother, Moe Foglio, 61, who has been a member of the team for five years, hopes their participation will help promote the sport everywhere. "We've been trying to make it nationwide and it is growing every year," he said. "To get it overseas would be great. It would give us the chance to travel. {Seniors} would have more opportunity to be more active and to try and stay in shape."

At 57, Arlington's Dave Blankley is one of the youngest players on the team. He said that by playing some of the top U.S. teams almost every day of the trip, the seniors will probably improve as a team.

But the individual skills are already developed. "If you don't have it at this age, you're not going to get it," he said. "If you play you can sharpen your skills. The basics are already there so you're not going to improve a lot."

The tournament was encouraged by the British Softball Council, which hoped to attract American teams to play their own teams to shift some of the sporting interest of cricket to softball.

Iannelli stressed the importance of this effort, especially to the fitness of older people. "I hope they do pick it up and do follow through with it," he said. "It's good for the health of senior citizens. It gets them off the rocking chair and onto the ball field."