WALLA WALLA - Last year, a YMCA-organized team of Walla Wallans headed across the state for their first-ever trip to the Washington State Senior Games.
This year, the Senior Games are coming here.
Athletes - both competitive and recreational - age 50-plus will come to the Walla Walla Valley May 27-29 to participate in nine different sporting events, ranging from tennis to 3-on-3 basketball, at the Eastern Washington Senior Games.
It's the first Senior Games event held on this side of the state, said YMCA special events director Susan Anfinson.
"I thought it would be a good fit with our mission," Anfinson said.
She competed at the Washington state games last summer, playing tennis.
"I've been aware of the games for a few years and been involved with sports for most of my life," Anfinson said. "If I'm going to exercise and get in shape, it's through a sport, not the weight room, and I always figured there were others out there like me."
And there are.
Anfinson recruited nine commissioners for each of the individual sporting events, most who had no prior experience with the Senior Games.
She already knew many of them, and some were recommended for their expertise in a sport or area.
Barry Wofford is organizing the golfing segment of the games, which are at Veterans Memorial Golf Course on May 28.
He'd never participated in the Senior Games before, but is looking forward to this year.
"I think it's a neat idea," Wofford said. "I'm hoping people will have a good experience. Hardly anyone golfs for medals, and I think people will appreciate the different format and the opportunity to go out and have fun."
Anfinson knew Wofford through the YMCA, and knew he is a former golf coach with event-organization experience. She contacted him in late February.
So far, registrations have been slow coming in, but Wofford is hoping for a good turnout.
"I think people will enjoy the experience and I'd definitely like to do this again," he said. "We'll see how this year goes first, though."
Although it's the first time the Senior Games have come to Walla Walla, some residents have already been to the events.
The YMCA sent eight athletes to the west side last summer for the state games in Olympia, where they met participants from across the region. Some of the athletes they met last July were Walla Walla Valley residents who traveled independently from the YMCA.
Senior Games activities will occur in venues all over town. The Walla Walla event is one of five regional events in Washington, and the only one on this side of the state.
The YMCA will host racquetball and basketball; bowlers will head to Stardust Lanes; golfers are at Veterans Memorial; swimmers will converge on the Whitman pool; and tennis players will be at Whitman and potentially at the Walla Walla Country Club, depending on the number of registrations.
Cyclists will begin a course at Wa-Hi and ride south, while the road runners' portion of the event begins at Rooks Park, and track will be held at Martin Field.
Although the Senior Games runs from Friday through Sunday, Anfinson expects most of the competitions to occur on Saturday. There will also be an Athlete's Dinner on the Whitman campus Saturday night, which will include speakers and entertainment, as well as a meal, for $12 per person.
Participants pay a one-time registration fee of $25 to participate, and certain other fees depending on their sport. Bowling is $9, golfing without a car is $28 and golfing with a cart is $36.
Providence St. Mary's is a gold sponsor and Wheatland Village is a silver sponsor.
And athletes can participate in more than one event.
Wofford has structured the golf schedule so that, while most tee times are from 11 a.m.-noon, golfers can request an earlier time to participate in, say, the road race, later that day.
"We want to make sure we accommodate everyone," he said. "We're working to coordinate with other events to make sure people can do everything they want to do."
Participants must be 50 by the end of 2011 to participate, and there's no age limit. Athletes will compete against others in five-year age increments, meaning that an 85-year-old won't be facing a spry young 50-something, Anfinson said.
"We hope to draw recreational, as well as competitive, participants," she said. "Some sports, like cycling, draw pretty competitive entrants, but you can be a recreational biker and still enter. It's open to anyone, really.
"It gives people a reason to get active," Anfinson continued. "It gives them an avenue for competition and meeting other people in the sport."
Although this is the first Senior Games in Walla Walla, Anfinson hopes it's not the only one.
"We're learning a lot and making changes as we go," she said. "We hope to do this again next year, and we'd like to keep doing it every year."
For more information, see the ‘Events' page at the YMCA website at wwymca.org.