CORTLAND — Pickleball, bowling and golf are among the more popular competitions at the annual Empire State Senior Games. But after this year, one participant is hoping to add pinochle, rummy or spades to that list.
While other athletes competed in traditional sports, a close-knit group of friends from Brooklyn were in the Hall of Fame Room at SUNY Cortland participating in the event’s first-ever playing card tournament.
Brooklyn native Sheila Osborne put together the three days of card games that competitors would play during the last half of this year’s Senior Games.
There were 12 people who showed up to play cards Thursday, Osborne said, and she expected roughly the same number would come that afternoon to play two more games: bid whist and manipulation rummy.
After attending the Senior Games for her first time last year, Osborne said Friday she enjoyed seeing the various types of competitions, and she received permission to introduce card playing to the annual event.
Osborne said she got the idea from going to senior centers in Brooklyn, where people enjoy the social aspect and camaraderie of playing all sorts of card games and she wanted to bring that atmosphere to Cortland.
In addition to creating a laid back competition, Osborne said she wanted to introduce card games as part of the Senior Games because for her, keeping the mind sharp is equally important as being healthy and staying active.
“If you don’t have up here together, what are you going to do with the body,” she said, pointing to her head. “Of course there’s … walking and all of that. But if you don’t do anything to keep this working, you lose it.”
Most participants came to Cortland to compete in other events. Around 1 p.m. Cletus Horton had just come back from bowling doubles with his partner, Jay McCrey. When they arrived, they wasted no time and got right to playing some bid whist.
Including this year, Horton said he’s attended six out of the last nine Senior Games. In 2012, he came away with a medal and two ribbons.
Make no mistake, on Friday, Horton came to win, but he was obviously enjoying hanging out with his friends, too — after all, he said he plays cards with Osborne and some of the other competitors at least twice a week back home.
“It’s like any sport,” he said. “It’s competition. They want to show you how good they are, you show ’em how good you are.”
Before Horton arrived, a few people weren’t familiar with the rules of manipulation, so Osborne led a quick practice round before things got competitive.
The game is played with two decks of cards and requires players to make sets of three cards either with the same numbers or three cards of the same suit in progressing order.
For the sake of time — and to add an additional element to the game — each player has one minute to make their moves. The game is over when the first person empties their hand.
While everyone was learning the basics, everyone was cracking jokes and poking fun at each other. Dorothy Samual would end up winning that round, but the real victory, she said was having a good time with her friends.
“I don’t like playing with people who are serious,” she said. “Some people play cards and they don’t joke. We joke.”
“The main think you need to do when you’re doing stuff is to laugh and we are laughing,” Osborne said. “Laughing is what brings out so much joy.”
Osborne said she has heard from people who said they would have participated, but were already in other competitions. She hopes to get that sorted out by next year.
But judging by the feedback Osborne said she’s received, making friends and being competitive all while staying sharp is something everyone seems to want to be a part of.
“When you can come some place for an hour or two and you can put that smile on, it does a great deal,” she said.