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OLD-TIMERS ARE STILL BATTLERS
SENIOR GAMES BEGIN

SHARE OLD-TIMERS ARE STILL BATTLERS
SENIOR GAMES BEGIN

They move a little slower than the college boys, but they still really move. And though they'll tell you they need more "breathers" than they used to, these basketball players still play a tough, tight game.

Welcome to Huntsman Chemical's World Senior Games in St. George. The games are proof that some things in the world of athletics never change.Coaches still get testy when they don't like a referee's call or a player's latest move.

And the players still like winning better than losing.

"Our stamina and ability fades somewhat with age," said Del Bland, Mill Creek, Wash. "But the competitiveness is pretty much the same. We're here to win; we're not just here for a drink together after the game.

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Bland could be the spokesperson for the hundreds of athletes age 50 and older who have gathered in southern Utah to battle it out at basketball, softball, golf, tennis, swimming, cycling, bowling, horseshoes, track and field, social golf and road races. Tennis and basketball got under way Monday and Tuesday.

The players have come from as far away as Taiwan. Warren Ling, at 82, is that country's only representative and will do a 10k run, a 5k run and a 5k walk in the road race. Canada has 68 athletes in St. George and Mexico has two.

While the athletes may joke about their "reduced" ability, they devote a lot of time and effort to maintaining it.

"I play pick-up games at the YMCA three times a week," Bland said. "And at my church most Tuesday nights. I've been playing regularly since I was a high school sophomore."

The Huskers, a team with members from Ohio and Nebraska, is made up of people who used to play against each other at a lot of regional tournaments. They've banded together for the World Senior Games.

"It's been really fun," said Denny Groves, from Ohio. "We've already played one game and it was really tough. We haven't had a chance to practice together and we've had a couple of no-shows, so we haven't had a chance to rest."

John Olson prepared for the games by playing in a park district league in Chicago. "I figured if I could play with 30-year-olds, it would help me with the 50-year-olds," he laughed.

Preparation for the tennis matches is equally intense. Harry James, director of tennis for the games, said that 225 seniors are registered. And some of them are world-class athletes.

"We have them up to age 83," he said, "and about 15 of them are in their mid-70s and older. Some of these people play three matches a day and then go play basketball.

"It takes a lot of fortitude and most of them play every day. If you look at them, they have young legs and are slim and trim. A lot of them have had open-heart bypass surgery and this is part of keeping their hearts healthy."

Chuck Gibbons is on the top-seeded men's doubles roster. He competed in 22 tourneys around the country last year and meets with nearly 50 other players three times a week in Carlsbad, Calif., to play tennis and socialize.

After the preparation's done and the game begins, the final issue for these athletes emerges: Did they compete well? "The most important thing is to get out there and do it," said Mark Rifkin, Carlsbad. "That's what keeps us young. For those who wonder if winning matters, Gerry Belko, a 57-year-old basketball player from Illinois, has the answer. "You bet it does. We're competitive or we wouldn't still be here.

"But," he added, "this is like Old Home Week. We've seen some of these people all over the country. They're like family."