Tennessee Senior Olympics/The Tennessean
By Bonnie Burch, The Tennessean
FRANKLIN - Chattanooga resident Etta Putnam is proud of her senior status.
bowler introduces herself to everyone as "almost 65" during bowling
competition at this year's Tennessee Senior Olympics' state finals in
the Franklin Entertainment Center.
is a wonderful sport to meet new friends. Sometimes you see them only
once a year, but it's still nice when you do see them again," she said.
boomers are beginning to swell the age brackets. This year marks the
greatest number of entries the state games, which began in 1981, have
seen, said Christine Dewbre, executive director of Tennessee Senior
Olympics Inc. Nearly 2,000 athletes 50 and older from around the state
have gathered on Williamson County fields, in swimming pools and at
bowling alleys for the 18 competitive events that range from basketball
games to cycling races to horseshoe tournaments.
But it also has
been a "wild start," she said, as this past weekend's rain washed out
the planned softball tournaments, which have been postponed until
When the games end on Thursday, age group winners will
advance to the National Senior Games Association's competition in 2013
"We mimic the sports they offer in the national
competition. But they are all active, sports-related events, so that's
why you'll never see us do checkers or bridge, for instance," Dewbre
Competition is divided into five age categories separated by five years all the way up to the 75-plus bracket.
At 53, Chattanooga bowler Joe Saggione might be considered a "young senior." But he enjoys competing with his peers.
meet other couples and sometimes travel together as friends. It's more
in keeping with fun road trips than competitive tournaments. Basically,
it's the social aspects that we enjoy more than anything," he said.
In the beginning, the senior games had a hard time recruiting from
this younger age bracket, but not any longer. During last year's state
finals, 12 percent of men and 8 percent of women were in the 50- to
54-year-old age bracket.
"That's not big numbers, of course. And
many of them have to work. But we've seen a little bit of an increase in
that age group every year. I've had 48- and 49-year-olds tell me they
can't wait to play in the Senior Olympics," Dewbre said.
The last of the demographic blip known as the baby boomers becomes eligible for the Senior Olympics just three years from now.
Although a minimum age is required, there is no limit to the upper age levels.
year, the oldest competitor is Robert Jones of Henderson, who turns 99
this year. He has entered the bowling tournament and completed track and
field events, including the javelin throw. However, Jones isn't the
most senior athlete the state finals have welcomed. A few years back, a
101-year-old joined in the competitions.
"This gives seniors an
opportunity to stay active. They have more fun running and swimming than
if they just stayed home. These games truly have the ability to change
people's lives," Dewbre said.