Imagine being 92 years old and selected to be a member of a traveling volleyball team.
When Mary Varca, a resident at the Gables of Hudson, telephoned her daughter a few weeks ago to tell her the news, Marianne LaRose worried that her mom may have lost her marbles.
“I thought something might have happened to her brain, and she had been fine up until then,” said LaRose, laughing.
But Varca’s marbles are all intact. It just so happens that she has a killer spike.
Varca and her teammates from the Gables of Hudson visited the Gables of KentRidge recently for a scrimmage in the facility’s commons. About 20 residents between the ages of 65 and 101 from both homes sat in chairs and punched a beach ball over a net. A fire burned in a nearby fireplace, music from a player piano mingled with the laughter, and a bartender in the corner was preparing Tequila Sunrises for happy hour at the assisted living facility.
“We came with our game faces on!” said Nancy Martinez, activities director at Hudson, clapping her hands for emphasis.
When Varca, who played volleyball at Garfield High School more than seven decades ago, missed a particularly difficult shot, she raised her hand to her face, looked at her daughter and grandson, Rocco LaRose, and flashed a mischievous grin.
The matches and practices, which are a regular part of the activities at both locations, generally draw a dozen or so cheerleaders who gather to watch. On occasion, a team from the Streetsboro Senior Center also offers a little competition.
“I want you to know that the bookies … are tracking this game. I said ‘bookies,’ not ‘cookies,’ ” joked Mike Wojno, owner of both facilities.
The games are terrific, said some residents, particularly for those who have been active most of their lives. And while it may look like a soft sport for seniors, staying in their seats can sometimes be an issue when the athletes lunge for the ball.
“Foster, you are about to get a butt foul,” a call that’s made when a player rises off his seat, warned Kent activity director Kaylin Miller.
“My wife says my butt is foul,” quipped someone in the room.
Wojno and others in the business know that as baby boomers age, there will be many more seniors in search of facilities that cater to active older folks. Statistics back up that point: The Pew Research Center projects that about 10,000 people in the United States will turn 65 each day for the next 15 years.
“The trend is … not [to] see assisted living as a ‘nursing home,’ but more of an exclusive senior living experience,” Wojno said, noting that because more residents are being visited by younger family members, his facilities are adding putting greens, Wi-Fi, playgrounds for grandchildren and sports bars.
Volleyball is just one of a full slate of activities at the facilities, including mind games, day trips to casinos, manicures and cooking demonstrations. Residents Skype with loved ones who can’t physically visit.
Following the scrimmage, Foster Schafer sported a wide grin. “Oh, I really enjoy volleyball,” the 90-year-old said, wearing a T-shirt bearing the team’s name, “The Boomerangs,” on the front and “We’ll be back” on the rear.
Residents from both facilities were invited to stay for happy hour, complete with homemade chips and spinach and artichoke dip.
While happy hour generally includes drinks with and without alcohol, chef Brian Albrecht admitted that he was mixing all of the day’s cocktails without tequila — to keep the guests from Hudson steady on their feet to board the bus for home.
“This isn’t a place to come and die,” Wojno said, motioning to the volleyball players. “This is a place to live and celebrate life.”
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com.