E.A. Sports Today

Oxford gearing for gala Masters Games

Director Don Hudson (R) and Pam Harris of the Oxford PARD sit with the crowns that will go to the king and queen of the Masters Games of Alabama Oct. 6-9.

Director Don Hudson (R) and Pam Harris of the Oxford PARD sit with the crowns that will go to the king and queen of the Masters Games of Alabama Oct. 6-9.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

When Don Hudson thinks of the growth of the Masters Games of Alabama this last quarter century he couldn’t be more proud.

Hudson wasn’t necessarily the founder of the games, which started in Oxford and “comes home” next month for the first time in 15 years, but he ran with it when city councilwoman Norma Martin suggested it for local seniors as a passive recreational alternative to the Senior Olympics.

There were nearly 400 competitors in those first formative years, when then event was always held in Oxford before moving around the state. Nearly 600 athletes between the ages of 50 and 99 are expected this year when the 24th Games are staged in and around the Oxford Civic Center Oct. 6-9.
“I’m as proud as I can be,” said Hudson, the Oxford parks and recreation director and a Calhoun County commissioner. “That just means we’ve touched a lot of seniors’ lives and we’ve given them some reason to become more active. It is a great feeling to know that we’ve given them an opportunity to participate in recreational activities and compete against people in their own age group.”

It will be a busy four days of competition. There are games like checkers, dominoes and Rook, but there’s also shuffleboard, horseshoes, a softball throw, free throw shooting, golf, swimming, bowling, table tennis and a 5K run. More than one third of the participants will compete in the Nerf Football Throw.

Most of the activity will take place at the Oxford Civic Center, but there are some off-site venues. Golf will be played at Cider Ridge Golf Club, table tennis at the Anniston Army Depot Physical Fitness Center, bowling at the Anniston Bowling Center, swimming at the Anniston Aquatic Center and billiards at Moores Fun Center.

“We didn’t want it to be like the Senior Olympics,” Hudson said. “We can involve more people. This great athlete who’s 67 years old, he could easily participate in the Senior Olympics, but some of these folks are good rook players, good dominoes players.

“At our senior citizens center, the seniors found out there was going to be a bowling competition. Well, they said, ‘You have to carry us up to the bowling alley; we’ve got to practice,’ which means these people were getting active, getting in shape, because they knew they had to go bowl. That’s one of the keys to the Masters Games: Stay healthy, get yourself in shape so you can participate.”

While most of the event winners won’t advance or qualify for other competitions from here (the golfers have a chance), although some of those competing have and will compete in the Senior Olympics.

And don’t think these seniors are just playing around; if you don’t think they’re still competitive at their age, organizers say stand near the Rook tables for a while. Some of the competitors will be wearing multiple medals by the end of the week.

“Some of those who have been going for years and winning, they just can’t hardly believe when somebody beats them,” said 91-year-old shuffleboard player Hughlene Law, a 2011 Masters Games Hall of Fame All-Star inductee. “It’s very competitive.”

Sylvia Childs of Jacksonville has a qualifying softball toss of 88 feet, 6 inches that rivals many of the men; she’ll compete in the 55-59 division. Other top throws among the women out of the local District 4 qualifier belong to Antoinette Davis of Jacksonville (71-6) in 50-54 and 2013 Hall of Famer Thelma Hinton of Lincoln (61-10) in 80-84. The top men’s throws belong to James Pritchett of Jacksonville (92-10) in 65-69, Michael Smith of Centre (88-5) in 60-64 and Samuel Whatley of Anniston (85-3) in 80-84.

Among the free throw shooters, 2011 Hall of Fame All-Star Susan Campeaux of Jacksonville hit 20 of 21 to qualify in 65-69. Ramon Cordova of Bynum (75-79) and Centre’s Smith had the best men’s scores with 16 of 30.

“Sometimes you’d think something like that would kind of be ‘Oh we’re tired of doing that,’ but these people live for this event,” said Pam Harris, Oxford PARD’s program coordinator and a longtime member of the Masters Games board. “Some of these people, that’s their whole goal for the year — to qualify in the summer to be able to participate in the state event.

“They live for this event because their life is a little more sedentary and a little more slower paced, but they dress up for the banquet night – they go all out — and if there’s a theme they participate in that theme and they’re here from the time we start until it’s over.”

The theme this year is, appropriately enough, “Coming Home.” And in the best tradition of a high school homecoming, the venues will be decorated in Oxford’s black and gold colors, the oldest male and female members from each of the state’s eight districts will comprise the homecoming court with the overall oldest being crowned king and queen.

“We are really pumped up because we think this is like going back home,” said Cindy Roberts, president of the Masters Games board of directors. “This is something everyone’s really gotten excited about.”

Frances Nelson of Heflin and Patricia Elston of Anniston are being inducted into the Masters Games of Alabama Hall of Fame from the local district. Nelson, a torchbearer at last year’s Masters Games, has won 27 Masters Games medals since 2003 (10 firsts).

“The Masters Games has made me realize you can have fun regardless of age or handicaps,” Nelson said. “I look forward to the Games every year.”

Al Muskewitz is Content Editor/Senior Writer of East Alabama Sports Today. To comment on this story or pitch a story idea contact him at musky@wrightmediacorp.com and follow him on Twitter @easportstoday1.

Wanna play?

Golfers can qualify for a spot in the Senior Olympics if they meet the score for their age (divisions are arranged in five-year increments starting at 50) in the Masters Games of Alabama. At present there are 39 players registered for the Oct. 6 singles tournament at Cider Ridge GC and 30 for the Oct. 7 two-man scramble.

Entry fee is $35 per day, plus a one-time $10 registration fee. If scramble partners are different ages, the team will play in the younger partner’s division. To register for the event, contact Pam Harris at 831-2660 by noon Oct. 3.

Organizers also are looking for volunteers to help with all the events. Contact Harris at the above phone number as well.

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