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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Seniors get their virtual game on

Valerie Putnam

Arriving in buses, large cargo vans, and some in their own cars, seniors from all over the region came to the Spokane Valley Church of the Nazarene to get their game on; their virtual game that is.

The gamers represented area assisted living facilities at the Wii Rock and Roll Bowlers tournament held Feb. 7 in the church’s gymnasium.

“It’s a very special thing” Barb Edinger, 75, of Lilac Plaza said. “Everybody has a good time.”

At this month’s event, 18 teams and more than 140 bowlers competed – including one team from Omak that competed over Skype.

Though most bowlers came out for friendly competition, there were a few rivalries.

“For a long time, he would get one pin better than me,” Mary Kay Bryan, of the Corbin Commandos said, laughing, about her “arch rival,” Jerry Edinger. The 62-year-old Bryan bowled a 262. “So I check on him and make sure that I’m over him. And I am this day.”

“I’m going to start practicing so I make sure I beat you,” Edinger, 77, said laughing. He scored a 238. “I’ll take you out next time.”

Lined up at one of eight large cloth screens on the south side of the gym, bowlers wielded the Wii remote with their own individual style, speed and technique.

“You have to find the right spot,” Patsy Rickett of the Senior Strikers said, who practices five days a week. “Sometime it moves.”

A spirit of camaraderie resonated between teams on and off the virtual alley.

“We will cheer for everybody,” Rickett said while holding a pompom. “One woman in a wheelchair came over and thanked us.”

“It’s like its one big happy family,” Barb Edinger, said. “Everybody roots for everybody.”

Kris Martin, who works in IT services for Lilac Plaza Retirement Community, came up with the idea for the tournaments after the theft of the facility’s first Wii.

Martin purchased a single Wii console in late 2007 for the residents. A couple of months later, the Wii was stolen. A news story covering the theft prompted surprising community responses.

“The next morning, we showed up to work and Best Buy was out there with a Wii,” Martin said. “We got more in the mail.”

Wondering what to do with the extra consoles, Martin came up with the idea of a tournament between Lilac Plaza and Holman Gardens.

The first tournament was held in February 2009 in the Lilac Plaza dining room. Twenty bowlers participated between the two facilities.

Martin wanted the tournaments to get bigger, but didn’t have the money to purchase additional equipment. The son of a late resident gave Martin the funds necessary.

“He wrote a check for the entire amount,” Martin said. “We couldn’t be doing it if it hadn’t been for him.”

The first larger tournament was held at Lilac Plaza that spring. Eventually the expanding events moved to the church gym.

“Kris is the one who got it going,” Lilac Plaza resident Ila Granlund, 87 said. “We bless her all the time for doing that.”

Today the event has almost outgrown the church gym’s capacity.

“We’re getting to the point now we’re going to have to get more screens and more machines,” Lilac Plaza bowler Jerry Edinger said. He helps set up and tear down.

Participants and organizers believe there are tremendous social and physical benefits to competing in the tournaments. Wii bowling provides exercise; improves coordination and helps increase range of motion for shoulders and wrist.

Physical limitations, chronic diseases, aches or pains don’t stop anyone from competing.

“It’s open to anyone who wants to participate,” Lilac Plaza CEO Glen Pierce said.

Pierce said he knew of several stories of residents setting and meeting personal goals to be able to improve their game, such as working to get out of a wheel chair or off oxygen before the next tournament.

“The wheelchair doesn’t affect my bowling,” Sherrie Gonzales, 68, said. “I like to be doing something instead of vegetating.”

“They’re talking about getting some shirts,” Marie Pilgrim, 97, from the Academy, said about the team’s plans to play in the next tournament. It was the Academy’s first tournament. “It’s great to be able to get out and do something.”

Best of all, there is a chance to bring home the bragging rights

“It’s nice to be on top,” Lilac Plaza resident Pat Johnson, 87, said beaming while holding the team’s first place trophy. Johnson also earned the top bowler certificate with her score of 279. “I’ve never been a top bowler.”

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