KEARNEY — Earlier this week, Holdrege’s Bob Phipps received an email telling him that his first-round opponent in the Nebraska Senior Games racquetball competition had changed.
His new opponent? Johnny Rodgers.
Johnny “The Jet” Rodgers.
Nebraska football legend.
Winner of the Heisman Trophy in 1972.
“It was like, ‘Wow,'” Phipps said. “I was just hoping to be competitive, that’s what I wanted to be. And hey, it wasn’t that competitive. Johnny is still moving quite well.
Rodgers swept the match in straight sets, his first tournament action in any sport and at any level, he said. This gave the 71-year-old Rodgers the gold medal in his age category, where he was the only competitor.
“I thought there would be a lot of people involved,” said Rodgers, who was talked into entering by his Omaha playing partner Frank Longo. “There are not many people here but we still wanted to come and see how it was. We may be talking about getting into the Husker games because they have doubles.
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While only five men and one woman participated in the racquetball competition, nearly 450 athletes ages 50 and older participate in the nearly 20 sports and activities that are part of the Nebraska Senior Games held at multiple venues around Kearney. .
Other events include swimming, pickleball and bowling, all activities Rodgers said he still enjoys doing even though he has limited his involvement with racquetball.
Rodgers said he started racquetball about 20 years ago after watching others play at the YMCA of Omaha. He ended up joining.
“It keeps you in good condition. You don’t have to worry about losing shape if you play racquetball,” he said.
He considers himself a “B” player, and serving is his strength. This is what allows it to stay one step ahead of the competition.
Phipps, who has been playing for about 30 years after a 15-year hiatus, agreed with Rodgers’ assessment of his game.
“I couldn’t get him out of the service line. He has great serve,” said Phipps, who won the 60-64 category.
Rodgers said the biggest benefit he gets from the game is that it keeps him fit.
“You have to run, especially if you can play at all. If you can’t play, someone will run you to death,” he said.
Running has become a bit more of a challenge for him since contracting the COVID-19 virus and spending a month in hospital.
“Since I got COVID, I sometimes have a hard time catching my breath in singles. That’s why I mostly play doubles,” he said. “I’m back now and everything is fine , or as good as possible.”