June 6, 2008


Diverse pair team up to light Senior Games torch

Senior Games

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Jim Sears of Stanley and Karen Simon of Virgil hold the torch aloft after lighting the Empire State Senior Games flame in Alumni Arena on the SUNY Cortland campus Thursday night.  

Sports Editor
Though they shared the moment together, Empire State Senior Games torchbearers Karen Simon and Jim Sears display the diversity that makes this event so special.
Though they worked in unison to ignite the caldron during ceremonies Thursday evening inside the SUNY Cortland Alumni Ice Arena before an appreciative gathering, they had only become fast friends moments before performing this traditional ceremony as the Senior Games reached the midway point of its stay here in town.
Making new friends is another enduring trait for this event, is another ritual of sorts that goes hand in hand with athletic competition and the quest for medals.
This is the first Empire State Senior Games for Simon, a state of Michigan transplant now residing in nearby Virgil after marrying Phil Simon last summer.
This is the 11th Empire State Senior Games for Sears, who lives between Canandaigua and Geneva. The town of Stanley serves as his mailing address.
Simon will be competing in just one event, racquetball, in her 50-54 age group the gets underway today. The affable and petite 4 foot-10 former high school principal is big-time player in her specialty, having just captured a 50-A national title in Houston this past Memorial Day weekend.
Sears keeps busy during his stay in Cortland by entering 19 different events, though schedule conflicts may prevent him from keeping up that ambitious schedule. Pickleball, badminton, bowling and track and field in the 60-64 age group are the activities that keep Sears busy. And as if the Senior Games weren’t enough of an obligation for this week, he made a little side-trip to Penn Yan the other night to compete in a recreational softball league against 20- and 30-year olds.
Simon works out six times a week, whether playing racquetball at the Ithaca YMCA or staying at home where she can keep in shape on various exercise apparatus on hand. She also ventures onto the SUNY Cortland PER racquetball courts on occasion.
Sears has no workout regiment — though living and doing chores on a 50-acre farm have kept him in shape and able to compete on this level. That provides a pretty good level of fitness for Sears, who estimates his medal haul during his Empire State Senior Games career between 110 and 115 medallions.
Something the two do have in common is getting to know Marilee Keast, the Empire State Senior Games office manager who selected the two athletes to official open this gathering of over 2,000 participants.
“Whatever she wants, I will do,” said Sears of agreeing to be a torchbearer when Keast asked. Keast’s sister, Vanessa Darmento, is often a partner of Sears when he enters mixed events at the Senior Games.
SIMON FIRST MET Keast at a booth at the New York State Fair last summer, where she was enticed by the prospect of competing at the Empire State Games.
A former resident of the Detroit suburb of Waterford, she had competed in state competitions in Michigan.
“Nothing about them compares to this. I tell me friends, this is awesome,” says Simon comparing those previous competitions to her first Senior Games experience.
“This is above and beyond, with a beautiful presentation. This is just so wonderful,” said Simon looking out of the crowd on hand for a barbecue and dancing to D.J. Brian Oddo — the first of three evening social festivities being held at the Ice Arena for the competitors.
She hopes to qualify for nationals in racquetball, which will send her to San Francisco — a nice trip for the relative newlywed and her husband.
The chance to qualify for nationals at his event is one reason why this is the biggest field of athletes on hand since Cortland began hosting the games seven years ago.
In one last contract, Sears is fine with staying home. He enjoys these games, having had a taste of national competition before and content with going up against his in-state cohorts.
This Simon-Sears collaboration capped Thursday’s ceremony by entering the Ice Arena with the lit torch held high, accompanied to the theme music to the movie ‘Rocky.’
After posting on the podium, flame held high, the blue caldron lined in yellow — the colors for the Senior games — was aglow with a flame that carries on the Olympic tradition of sportsmanship and competition.
CORTLAND CHAMBER of Commerce executive Garry VanGorder was the master of ceremonies for the brief ceremony highlighted by the lighting of the torch.
There was a special presentation to Carol Deloff from the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging, who is responsible for the Wellness Fair that has become a part of the Senior Games. The Wellness Fair showcases services and products available for older adults.
Local dignitaries were also on hand to welcome participates.
SUNY Cortland present Erik Bitterbaum was in recruiting mode. “If you have a bright grandchild we want them to come to Cortland,” he said.
Cortland Mayor Tom Gallagher praised the 200 volunteers and thanked the participants for bringing “a sense of rejuvenation to our community.”
Cortland County Legislature Chairman John Daniels, Office for the Elderly Deputy Director Marcus Harizin, and CDPHP Director and official sponsor of pickleball Craig Hayden Craig Hayden also addressed the crowd briefly.
And after Harlem Honey Bears team member Marge Goines read the Athlete’s Oath, after Bob Kaminski from Grand Island in Western New York road the Official’s Oath, Simon and Sears were in the spotlight.
With the lighting of the torch, the Empire State Senior Games were official declared to be open.