29th Senior Olympics attract athletes

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

The less-than-perfect weather did not hinder the enthusiasm or number of athletes and volunteers at the 29th Annual St. Louis Senior Olympics. Nicole Liebman, Director of St. Louis Senior Olympics, said the games were the largest they have been over the past several years. More than 1,350 participants competed in 85 events with the help of more than 300 volunteers.

“There was a different energy about the games this year,” Liebman said.

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The new format for the opening ceremonies was a great success, according to Liebman.

“The opening ceremonies included a vendor fair and packet pick up,” Liebman said. “Every corner of the room had sponsor tables where people were able to pick up information, free goodies and enter raffles. There was Ted Drewes for everyone.”

Chairs Amy and Steve Gallant welcomed everyone at the opening ceremonies and introduced Michael Staenberg, Chairman of the Jewish Community Center’s (JCC) Board of Directors. Eighteen people were on the stage as part of the torch lighting ceremony to honor individuals, sponsors, athletes and volunteers and to highlight the history of the games. Volunteer Marvin Goldford was honored as the 2008 Walter “Doc” Eberhardt award winner. Also included was Nancy Weigley, who served as the director of the games for 10 years. Weigley will be the chair for the 30th anniversary games next year.

“How young are you?” asked Liebman of athlete John Folcerts who came into the Senior Olympic office at the JCC to check on some final results.

This was the second year Folcerts participated in the bowling doubles with friend James Davies. They won the gold medal this year.

“The highlight of the games for me is the chance to participate and meet other bowlers,” Folcerts said. “The whole thing is run very smoothly.”

The many volunteers are the secret to the success of the games, said Liebman.

“I started working on the games last September,” Liebman said. “The number of staff and volunteers for the games started to increase dramatically after the first of the year. It takes hundreds of volunteers and the commitment of the entire J staff to make this event possible.”

The renewed enthusiasm and excitement of the sponsors, volunteers and participants which has been building over the year is largely due to Liebman, said Amy and Steve.

“Nicole did an outstanding job,” said the Gallants. “She is largely responsible for the games’ resurgence and popularity and its renewed vitality.”

Despite the wet weather, nearly everything was right on schedule, said Liebman. They used all the indoor courts at the Creve Coeur Racquet Club and only had to reschedule the nine-hole golf, softball tournament and softball homerun derby. However, there was a little extra excitement during the 18-hole golf tournament.

“That was when the funnel cloud was spotted by Page and 170,” Liebman said.

From the moment the 29th Annual St. Louis Senior Olympic games ended, everyone started talking about 30th anniversary games next year, said Liebman. They are hoping to make it an even more community-wide event next year by including more venues for the games.

“We were at 14 venues across St. Louis this year including three golf courses, both J campuses and locations from Webster Groves to St. Peters,” Liebman said.

The enthusiasm of the athletes and volunteers will continue to grow the games, said Steve.

“It is incredible to watch the participants whether they are age 50 or 90,” Steve said. “They are totally into it no matter which sport it is. Everyone is competitive. It’s about the chase.”

The 30th anniversary St. Louis Senior Olympics are scheduled to begin May 22, 2009.