The Empire State Senior Games began Friday with the first event — disc golf at Dotson Community Park in Tompkins County, beginning a series of smaller events through the summer rather than seven days of back-to-back senior sports.
Next up will be short-course golf on Monday at the West Hill Golf Course in Onondaga County, followed in the coming week by long-course golf and pickleball.
Last year, the games were canceled because of the COVID pandemic. This year, some events are already at capacity, organizers said.
Now, many participants plan to return this summer after a year of isolation.
“I think the senior games are important to begin with because it keeps that segment of the population active and gives them something to look forward to,” said Machell Phelps, executive director of the Cortland Regional Sports Council, which organizes the games. “As much as people like to compete, there’s a social aspect to the senior games — people come back to see the friends they’ve made year after year.”
However, because the events are spread out across several weeks, participants might not see as many of their friends as they would have.
“In the past, I would see people from all the different age groups and all different levels — everyone milling around, multiple events going on at any given time,” said Andy Wallenstein of Ithaca, who plays tennis and pickleball at the games. “There was time between events to talk to people and socialize a bit, but I don’t think the social aspect is going to be anything like what it’s been in the past. Hopefully, that’ll change in time for 2022.”
Monday — Short-course golf at West Hill Golf Course in Camillus
Tuesday and Wednesday — Long course golf at Vesper Hills Golf Course in Tully
Wednesday-Friday — Pickleball at SUNY Cortland in Cortland
June 25 — Swimming (ages 70 and up) at SUNY Cortland
June 26 — Swimming (ages 50 to 69) at SUNY Cortland
June 26 and 27 — Archery at Cortland County Fairgrounds in Cortland
July 9 and 10 — Croquet with the Rochester Croquet Club at the Grace & Truth Sports Park in Rochester
July 11 — Cycling at Southern Cayuga High School in Aurora
For details and updates on coming events, go to nyseniorgames.com.
Organizers expect a good turnout this year, although it won’t be as many people as in the past, Phelps said. When the games were canceled in 2020, about 350 pickleball players chose to roll over their registration for 2021 — filling every available slot nearly a year in advance.
Janice Pauly, co-organizer for the pickleball event, said she’s traveling from Washington, D.C., to take part.
“I look forward to it every year,” Pauly said. “We won’t have as much of a social aspect — we normally have some social events, we won’t have those — but just getting to see the players you’ve gotten to know will be nice.”
The pickleball tournaments will take place Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at SUNY Cortland. This summer, the campus will not offer dormitories for rental, so participants will need to make reservations at hotels.
Other games scheduled this summer include long course golf, archery, croquet, swimming and cycling. Organizers anticipate track and field, road races and bowling will added to the schedule, most likely in July or August. They are looking into scheduling tennis tournaments as well.
By expanding the senior games to several weeks of events, more people might register for multiple events that would have normally been scheduled at the same time, Phelps said.
To keep participants safe, each event will follow the COVID-19 guidelines and safety precautions set by the state and county, and any additional rules set by the individual venues.
“We really appreciate the fact that venues like SUNY Cortland and all the golf courses and places like that are allowing us the ability to put on the events we can,” Phelps said. “They’ve really been working with us to make it happen.”