June 10, 2010
Empire State Senior Games get under way
GROTON — Inside the Tri-County Horseshoe Club on Route 38, Elsie Adams steadied her arm and launched a horseshoe at the stake.
The horseshoe arced through the air before it landed in a patch of dirt, creating a haze of dust as it wrapped around the stake.
Adams, 88, of Homer scored three points — a ringer — given to players who can get the horseshoe around the stake. She was participating Wednesday in the Empire State Senior Games.
The Empire State Senior Games, organized by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, is held annually in Cortland and cater to state residents age 50 and older. This year’s competition began Tuesday and concludes Sunday. This year, 1,642 athletes are competing in the Senior Games.
The Senior Games offers many events — track and field, swimming, archery and horseshoes among others. There are also nonactive games such as the card game bridge. Most activities for the Senior Games are held at SUNY Cortland athletic facilities.
“I try everything,” Adams said of her participation.
She started attending the games in 1983, spurred by an interest that came from watching her twin sons compete in various sports leagues in their youth.
The horseshoe matches gave the seniors something to do Wednesday, a day with continuous rainfall, said Tom Scheffler, president of the horseshoe club. However, he had hoped for more participants.
“It’s good to see these people have a good time and get out and be active, but the number of people in the horseshoe games has dropped,” Scheffler said.
A total of 12 women were registered to participate in the horseshoe matches; seven participated, five were absent. In past years, there were close to 50 participants, said Scheffler.
He did not know if numbers in other activities were down, or if it was just an isolated occurrence with the horseshoe competition.
He wasn’t sure what caused the decrease in participants, but predicted it had something to do with the economy or distance.
Jeff Doherty, director for the Senior Games, said there can be various reasons for the low attendance. There are games being held for seniors in Long Island during the same time as the games in Cortland. Doherty said participants living down state might want to compete at a closer location. He also cited the change in registration fees. This year, the Empire State Games charged $40 per participant, an increase from its usual $25 registration fee.
However, Doherty contends there was an increase in all-around participation from last year. In 2009, about 1,604 people participated in the games, Doherty said.
In 2008, the participants totaled about 2,100, a record high, said Doherty. All even-numbered years are qualifying years, in which athletes try to qualify to compete in the Summer National Senior Games. The national games will be held next year in Houston.
“I feel comfortable our numbers will return,” Doherty said. He had expected the 2010 attendance numbers to be higher than 2008, but said organizers of the senior games will implement aggressive marketing for future games.
Still, other members in the horseshoe club thought the low attendance in games had something to do with afflictions and illness associated with old age.
Still, some players competed against their doctor’s advice.
“My doctor told me not to play because of my bad shoulder,” said Mary Rouse, 64.
Rouse, who seeks regular medical treatment for her shoulders, traveled to Cortland from Brooklyn to compete in the games.
“I’m here,” Rouse said. “You get into the excitement of other people doing things. If I can’t participate, I might as well stayed at home.”
Participants sign medical clearances before participating in activities and ambulances are stationed at most games.
Despite some of the participants’ spirit to persevere, Scheffler said he hopes something can be done to raise participation in horseshoe games.
The club voluntarily provides players with free training and food. The club does not charge the Empire Games to use its facility.
Greg Wiley, a member of the horseshoe club and past participant in the games, said he enjoyed competing with seniors. Wiley said he won a close game with a Senior Games participant.
The seniors seem to appreciate the camaraderie as well.
“The people are very nice,” said Carolyn Slaughter, 50, of Buffalo. “The games give you a chance to travel and enjoy people.”
At the end of the competition, Adams, the only participant in the age 85 through 89 age group, was awarded a gold medal. Adams has received a medal every year she participated in the senior games, and she plans to win more in the future, she said, because it is beneficial to her life.
“I’m pretty active,” said Adams. “I’m going to live to be 100 years old.”
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