They Keep on Rolling : Wheelchair Seniors From 55 to 100 Have a Ball at Their Annual Games


It could have been just another volleyball game, six players on each side, the ball sailing back and forth over the net. But this one was different.

The players were wheelchair-bound senior citizens, people like 68-year-old Eleanor Morales, sporting an ear-to-ear grin, ecstatic after her team from the Grand Care Convalescent Hospital of Anaheim downed a squad from another senior care facility by a score of 7 to 5.

“I knew we were going to win,” she said.

Forgive Morales’ enthusiasm if the competition wasn’t the stuff of the Olympic trials. But for those who took part in the Senior Games at the Orange County Fairgrounds on Wednesday, the heat of the competition was as fierce as any professional tournament.


About 400 participants, ranging in age from 55 to 100 and representing 32 senior facilities in the county, took part in the games, playing hard for their teams in contests such as volleyball, basketball, shot-put and wheelchair races.

Organizers created the Senior Games a dozen years ago and the convalescent centers took turns hosting them until 1988, when officials of the Orange County Fairgrounds agreed to hold them there, according to MaryAnn Reynolds, a co-chairperson of games for the Orange County Activity Directors Assn., which coordinates events for the county’s senior health facilities.

“They begin competing when they’re young, and to continue it is important because it adds to their quality of life,” Reynolds said.

Marguerite Hawkinson, a 94-year-old resident of the Extended Care Hospital of Anaheim, won ribbons in shot-put, the wheelchair race and baseball.

“I love to play them ‘cause I’m young at heart, I guess,” Hawkinson said simply.

Doris Ritch, activities director for Extended Care, said the contests were natural extensions of the weekly exercise classes at the care centers.

“They work so hard to earn these ribbons,” Ritch said. “They’re so proud of them and they come to win.”

By around 2 p.m., most of the contests had ended and participants sat under colorful tents decorated with bright balloons, listening to a three-member reggae band. Some of the nurses danced in front of the stage with their partners--the seniors--sitting in wheelchairs, while several children who had volunteered to help put on the games danced around the band on stage.

“We got lucky. The weather is beautiful,” Nancy Eastis, an activities assistant for Lake Forest Nursing Center of El Toro, said while watching the show.

Echoing many others, she said the Senior Games are vital to the well-being of residents at senior care facilities.

“They get out, they have fun and it makes them feel good,” she said.