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Wii bowling team ready to strike

Posted: May 28, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 28, 2012 1:55 a.m.

2012 California Senior Wii Bowling Champion teammates look on as bowler Harry Gratz uses the Wii controller as the team practices at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center on Thursday.

The Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center offers a variety of events and activities throughout the year for clients of the center. There are classes, lectures, trips, tours and assorted activites.

Among the offerings, the Nintendo Wii bowling team is unique.

As team captain, Bernard "Bernie" Katz has led his senior team to several championships.

"It started out as playing for fun," Katz said. "Then the more and more we played the more we liked it. Next thing we moved into competitions."

The Wii bowling phenomenon has resonated with seniors across the country. According to the National Senior League (NSL) website, the recent 2012 Spring Season NSL Championships held on May 19 boasted 160 bowling teams competing in 26 states with a total of 950 senior Wii bowlers. The home league office is located in Georgia, which collects the scores from throughout the country, eventually narrowing things down to the two top teams bowling it out for the top spot.

The SCV team even has sponsorships from Hunt C. Braly and EmbroidMe to help with costs for registration, team T-shirts and the turkey hat, which is a specially sewn hat that looks like a turkey and is worn by the player who gets three strikes in a row. The team also has a scorekeeper, who some lovingly call "the human joker."

So why is this suddenly so popular among seniors?

"Because handicap doesn't mean a thing here," Katz said. "People who can hardly walk come in, they watch, then play for a bit and find out they like it. We can all help each other."

Katz said he's watched senior friends of his go from an introverted state to becoming more lively.

"People in wheelchairs or with joint problems come and they look all down and sad," said Katz. "But as they watch and see that they can do it too, even in a wheelchair, a smile comes across their face."

Just like in "hard copy" sports, each senior player has their little superstitious routine for luck that they perform before they bowl. Some do a little shimmy with the shoulders, some take extra long aiming the ball, some get closer to the screen, and some get a better grip on the Wii controller as if it were a Louisville Slugger. For Katz, he does a little soft shoe tap dance before hurling the controller toward the screen. He bowled several strikes in a row was his reward.

Mary Gallant, a world traveler and former aerial acrobat/puppeteer is a member of the bowling team in addition to being a volunteer at the senior center.

"We have a ball laughing and bowling together," said Gallant. "It is proof that we are not old people, we are fun people who love to be a part of a team and have something to look forward to."

Gallant said Wii bowling was suggested by one of the directors at the center, and it caught on. Everything needed for the team was donated to the center, from the flat screen TV to the Wii game itself.

"There is a camaraderie and a diversity of cultures that forms," said Robin Clough, SCV Senior Center director of volunteers and recreation. "Age becomes just a number with the Wii bowling. It's almost like the great equalizer, the playing field becomes level and hope rises."

Clough said she has seen the many benefits of Wii bowling for the seniors.

Among her favorite success stories is of a woman with a walker decided to give Wii bowling a shot, Within a short time, she was laughing, bowled a strike, tossed her walker aside and cheered like she had won the World Series, Clough said.

Clough said a gentleman with cataracts who positions himself close to the screen bowls a strike just about every time the virtual ball goes down the aisle.

The senior team recently won trophies at the Western Region Championships and the Conference Championships. The team placed second in the California state finals and they came in fourth in the nation for 2011. The competition is taken seriously.

"We've won trophies which we are all proud of," Katz said. "We look forward to this upcoming season and the chance to have fun with everybody and win."

The team practices twice a week.

"They practice as much as possible," Clough said. "After all, there's some stiff competition out there because the retirement homes can practice seven days a week."

To participate in the senior Wii bowling team at the SCV Senior Center, contact the center at 661-255-1588. The SCV Senior Center is located at 22900 Market St. in Newhall.




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