Aging is not something most people look forward to, but all her life, Jackie Allison could not wait until she turned 55.
When she reached that milestone last year, she was ready for her long anticipated entry into the N.C. Senior Games program.
Her basketball team and other athletes are seeing action through April 23 as the Raleigh-Wake Senior Games convene in venues all over Wake County.
“My parents have been involved in the Senior Games for the last 20 years, and I have long been waiting to turn 55 to play too. I would love to have started five years before,” Allison said.
She had played basketball for the University of North Carolina Tar Heels, though not on a scholarship.
“Back then we played because it was fun,” she said. She graduated from UNC-CH in 1978.
Recreational leagues followed her college playing days, but she eventually left the sport and became a Senior Games’ fan, rooting for her parents.
As Allison approached eligibility herself, she started looking up old friends and former college teammates.
“I just sent emails to people I knew, and even asked my younger friends to pass along my messages to anyone they thought would be interested in playing,” she said.
She gradually built a 3-on-3 half-court team with six players.
The team’s name reflects that it’s never too late to get started.
“We were sitting around trying to come up with a name for our team and noticed there were teams called the Wanna Bees and the Usta Coulds,” Allison said. “We talked about how we still can play, and we hit on the Steel Cans.”
They hope to find one more player for their roster.
“It is amazing how much we still enjoy playing. We can’t do all that we used to do, but that makes the sport fun and also funny,” she said.
Allison, who lives in Youngsville, is also on the N.C. Senior Games Board of Directors.
Senior Games reaches more than 60,000 local participants, making it the largest statewide Senior Games program in the nation, according to Allison.
“And there is a whole ’nother group of people my age coming up through the ranks,” she said. “We are trying to get the message out that it is fun to keep moving and stay in shape.”
Butch Arnold of Wake Forest would agree.
He’s 66 years old and has been playing softball since he was 19. He and his teammates have been playing together for 25 years and vow to never stop.
“I have had three back surgeries, and I’m still playing,” he said. “Senior softball has really come on in this area. It’s great exercise and playing makes you feel better.”
Arnold and his team play in senior leagues in Garner and Rolesville. He also fields a team in the Senior Games. Sponsored by Code Electric of Raleigh, his team has been a defending N.C. Senior Games state champion in the 60-64 age division for five years in a row.
“At our age, it hurts more, but it’s worth it,” he said.
More than 600 seniors have signed up for the two components of the local Senior Games, according to Steve White.
“We anticipate 480 athletes and 140 participants in Silver Arts,” he said. The Silver Arts program offers competition for seniors who are active in visual, literary and performing arts, and the event coincides with the games.
The most popular sports are bowling, basketball, softball, tennis and table tennis, according to White.
First-, second- and third-place local winners are eligible to compete in the N.C. Senior Games in September, and there they can qualify to play in the National Games in Cleveland July 21-Aug. 6, 2013.
“Our program’s mission is to promote healthy aging, to foster the seniors’ ability to play sports and to give them a chance to compete,” White said.
‘I play because I can’
At 85, George Megill of Raleigh has no intention of giving up tennis, a sport he has enjoyed since was 10 years old. Despite having a “gimpy knee and the beginnings of Parkinson’s Disease,” he says, he is squaring off against opponents on the Millbrook Exchange tennis courts during the Senior Games this week.
He has been participating in the Senior Games for the past 15 years.
“I enjoy playing a whole lot,” he said. “I love to compete, and I work hard not to lose.”
Megill’s wife, June, used to play sports and has won many medals, he said. But her health has deteriorated, and she’s mostly a spectator now, although he can convince her to join him on the tennis courts once in a while.
He brags about her abilities.
“In my younger days, when I was in my 70s, she beat me in race walking by one one-hundredth of a second,” he said.
Megill, who also helps coordinate the senior tennis program at Millbrook Exchange, vows to keep playing as long as he can still swing a racquet.
“I play because I can,” he said.
Allison and Arnold each echoed Megill’s sentiment, citing the adage, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.”
Student athletes won $1,500 scholarships, and those named from Raleigh are Grace Fuscoe, a soccer player and cross country runner for Ravenscroft School; Justin Coleman, a basketball player for Broughton High School; and Kim Hinton, a basketball and tennis player for Trinity Academy.