Heart of Illinois Senior Games and The Arts May 21-25

Jeanette Kendall/ TimesNewspapers
Mariah Schultz is the event organizer for the Heart of Illinois Senior Games and the Arts. She is new to the role this year.

For those 50 or older who want to do something active, while making new friends, the 14th annual Heart of Illinois Senior Games and The Arts may be just the answer.

The five-day event is from May 21-25 and offers seniors a plethora of activities in which to compete or participate. 

Mariah Schultz, development and event organizer, said 3,200 mailings and 4,000 brochures just went out to alert people about the Senior Games, a non-profit entity. The organization has a board of directors, including representatives from the East Peoria, Peoria, Morton, Washington, Pekin and Morton park districts. 

Also serving on the board is East Peoria resident Jim Frey who has participated in the Senior Games for the past 10 years.

“It looked like fun,” Frey said.

Frey said he has about 40 medals at home from placing in different events over the years. Out of all of the events he competes in, basketball is his favorite.

“I’m the oldest of the team but I’m the healthiest of the team,” Frey said.

Frey said he also enters a lot of art competitions since he has a background in graphic design.

“I’m hoping I can get into some other events because my buddies want me to,” Frey said.

There will be a lot from which Frey can choose. 

A booklet about the Senior Games lists clay shoot, archery, table tennis, bowling, golf, painting, drawing, photography, crafts, storytelling, badminton, cycling, billiards, soccer, shuffleboard, track and field events, swimming, Pickle-ball® and more.

Schultz said Pickle-ball® is becoming very popular. Pickel-ball®, according to the official Pickle-ball® website, is: “traditionally played on a badminton-sized court with special Pickle-ball® paddles. The ball used is 

similar to a wiffle ball, but slightly smaller. The lower net and wiffle ball allow the game to be accessible to people of all ages and abilities.”

In addition to the competitive events, in which participants can try for a gold, silver or bronze medal, there are also “Just for Fun” events, including a climbing wall, fitness walk, washer toss, bean bags and Texas Hold ‘Em.

Most of the events take place at the RiverPlex in Peoria, but events also are held in East Peoria, Washington, Mackinaw, Pekin, Bartonville, Brimfield and Edwards.

In East Peoria, the events are at the Fon du Lac Park District,  ROC Ice Cream & Golf and the Fon du Lac Golf Course.

Schultz said a goal for 2014 is to showcase the area’s park districts.

For example, Schultz said this year the Peoria Park District added an adventure series to the Senior Games to showcase W.H. Sommer Park.

“It’s a park that’s not typically open to the public. You usually have to have some type of event to access that site. ... It’s a beautiful park,” Schultz said.

Schultz said the Senior Games are broken down into four areas — athletics, adventure, arts and Just for Fun.

The cost to register for the Senior Games is $35 and includes four social activities as well.

An opening celebration begins at Dozer Park May 21 for a “Senior Games Night.” The gates open at 5:30 p.m. and participants will see a Senior Games Shining Stars Parade followed by a feast.  

There is a fine arts reception from 5:30-7:30 p.m. May 23 at the newly opened Noble Center for Park District Administration (formerly Lakeview Museum). Hors d’oeuvres will be offered.

The hiking adventure, previously mentioned, and a luncheon, will both take place May 25 at W.H. Sommer Park. The luncheon is planned in conjunction with Pioneer Days taking place that day from 1-4 p.m. at the park.

Anywhere from 275-450 people register for the Senior Games, Schultz said. Frey is one of these people. Last year he entered 12 events and won seven gold medals, two silver medals and one bronze medal.

“It’s just really a fun opportunity to meet people. Last year we had several states, eight to 10 states involved. Two years ago we had almost 500 people involved,” Frey said.

Schultz said the Heart of Illinois Senior Games is not a qualifying competition, but other states have qualifying games. Still, the games in central Illinois attract people from other states.

“A lot of people from other states like to join ours because it’s practice. And they build a network of friends. It’s kind of like they make their rounds across the country,” she said.

One man who called Schultz recently told her he wants to win a medal in every state’s Senior Games.

In total, there are about 300,000 people in the Senior Games network, Schultz said.

“It’s the best-kept secret in sports really,” Schultz said. “When you look at those numbers, it’s pretty amazing. When the National Senior Games was held this year, I think they had 14,000-15,000 participants. The actual Olympics, which occurs on a four-year cycle, has about 13,000.”

Volunteers, fundraising and sponsors are integral to the success of the Senior Games, Schultz said. 

For more information, to volunteer or register, visit www.hoiseniorgames.org, or call Schultz at 681-2860. The registration deadline is May 14.

Schultz is new to her role with the Senior Games. She said her personal mission is to get people active. Another event she hopes to achieve her mission with is the 3rd Annual HOI Senior Softball Tournament May 31-June 1. To enter a team, call Schultz at 681-2860.