The battle for the Northland’s most coveted bowling trophies plays out every week not in bowling alleys, but in senior centers and nursing homes across Platte and Clay counties.
Players — some of them already senior citizens back when Pac-Man was the big name in video games — line up at game consoles for the senior Wii bowling league.
The winter tournament is only half over and competitors like 100-year-old Clara Smith are still working hard to rack up strikes and spares. Smith, who bowls for the Englewood Mixers in the independent living division, has a high score of 268 and carries a 170 average — better than when she was in her 40s.
“I enjoy bowling and would like to do it more,” Smith said. “When I was young my husband and I bowled, but we weren’t good.”
As the virtual balls roll down alleys and strike pins with a resounding smack, the virtual game becomes real. Although players mostly stand still except to swing a remote control, their facial expressions and body English bring a bit of the bowling alley into the game.
The camaraderie among Smith and her three teammates is obvious as they encourage each other, often cheered on by other residents.
Over at the Platte County Senior Center, four teams are rooting for each other to bring their division trophy home from Kearney. So far it’s looking good, with the center’s teams ranking first, second, third and fourth in the senior center division.
All 37 teams in the league know where they stand against each other and who they have to beat to take home a trophy.
Chrissy Carver, the administrator at the Liberty Senior Center, says that’s a big change from when the Wii consoles first arrived.
“At first it was like pulling teeth to get the seniors to try the Wii. Now they complain if the Wii is not out every day,” Carver said.
At the Riverstone Retirement apartments, activities director Angela King said many residents have bought their own Wii consoles so they can practice more.
The ultimate individual goal is bowling a perfect game. Jan Anneshensley of the Liberty Happy Rollers has bowled 300-point games, but only in practices that don’t count for a record. She’s still trying to earn a “Perfect Game, Queen Pin” shirt.
Melissa Moran, owner of the Senior Helper franchise north of the river, founded the league four years ago to give seniors another option for exercise, social interaction and mental stimulation. It has blossomed from a one-day event into an eight-week tournament with divisions for senior centers, independent or assisted living residents and skilled nursing faculties.
The game is easily adapted for players with physical handicaps. Players can bowl while sitting and people with poor vision can ask for help lining up with the pins before they swing the remote. Even players at the onset of dementia can compete.
The camaraderie and rivalries are fun, but the big draw is the chance to earn a trophy and the bragging rights that come with it.
“Two families have told us that the individual trophies meant so much,” said league coordinator Cory Miner, “that they were displayed at their memorial service. Winning at 85 or 88 and never having won anything before is special.”