SCARBOROUGH — As a way to laud exemplary senior athletes who have competed in both the state and national Senior Games, the Southern Maine Agency on Aging has recently formed a Maine Senior Games Hall of Fame.
Nearly 30 years old, the Maine Senior Games are held in the summer (June-September), eligible to anyone older than 45. Participants can choose from nearly 20 sports, ranging from at least one team sport, like basketball, to swimming, track and field, bowling, golf, pickleball, candlepin bowling and horse shoes.
Typically between 450 and 600 adults across Maine participate in at least one event, said Jo Dill, manager of the Maine games and a medalist in basketball.
Most who compete in the games live south of Waterville, Dill said, adding that corralling even more people from the far corners of the state is something she is actively trying to do.
The games are an “athletic competition organization, but we are moving toward more wellness for the non-competitive folks,” Dill said.
The level of skill each athlete brings to their sport varies considerably, which is why anyone is encouraged to participate, said Deb Smith, executive director of the Maine Recreation and Park Association, a board member for the national games, and a medalist in basketball at the state and national games.
“We are moving to include more of a wellness component and opportunities for folks to participate who may not want ‘full competition,'” Smith said.
First and foremost, the games serve to build community and to encourage an active lifestyle, she said; a level of competitiveness is secondary, because each person’s experience is so varied.
One aspect that is certain, said pickleball athlete and advisory board member Patsy Wiggins: “Everyone has a different reason for getting involved.”
“There’s a place in the games for everyone,” Dill added.
The largest contingency of competitors in the state are ages 60-69. While participants must be at least 45 to compete in the state games, only those 50 and older are eligible for the Hall of Fame.
Dill, Wiggins, Smith, Julie Moss and Kim Koehler began the process of forming a Hall of Fame after witnessing a rise in the number of participating athletes throughout the last few years. The desire to call attention to the standout competitors became something that seemed necessary.
“We knew that there was a growing number of people getting involved,” and rather than just observing the increase, “we wanted to put the spotlight” on the stellar athletes, Wiggins said.
Further, a Hall of Fame provides an achievable level of excellence that will only continue to provide incentives for skilled athletes to hone their skills.
In order to effectively cull the stand-out athletes, the Hall of Fame is accessible only to Maine residents who have competed in at least five Maine Senior Games, two National Senior Games, and have medaled at least once at the national level.
Honorees must be nominated by another person and cannot nominate themselves. Categories include induction for athletic participation, or posthumous recognition. Nominees will be judged not only for their individual accomplishments, but their team accomplishments and their general contributions to the state games.
Even though Maine is the oldest state in the country, Wiggins said, the senior games combats stereotypes.
“Underneath it all, there are all these people, being active and aging gracefully,” she said.
The first inductees into the Hall of Fame will be announced in May. Nominations are due by March 1.