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Volleyball keeps old feeling young

Mon., March 24, 2014

AKRON, Ohio – 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 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.

Mike Wojno, owner of both facilities, 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.

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.

“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.”

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