Jo Dill grabbed the ball into the post, faked a step drop right, spun left and finished high in the glass above the smaller defender. This decision would have made Hakeem Olajuwon proud.
Still, for Dill, it was just another day in practice. Dill is the captain and center of the Maine Pioneers, a southern Maine-based basketball team for women aged 70 and over. For weeks, the team has been training for the upcoming Maine Senior Games.
The Senior Games will be held at venues across the state over the coming months, starting with track and field events at St. Joseph’s College in Standish on July 16 and ending with a 10-pin bowling tournament in Augusta. October 2. Other competitions include pickleball, racquetball, buoy throwing, table tennis, archery, tennis, cycling, golf, candle bowling, swimming, cornhole, horse racing. 10 kilometer, 1 mile brisk run/walk and 5 km brisk run/walk.
Organizers expect 500 to 600 athletes to compete. Anyone 45 or older is eligible, but athletes compete only with those in their own age group, divided into five-year brackets (such as 65 to 69). Non-residents are permitted to participate in the Maine Senior Games.
This year’s Games will give athletes the opportunity to qualify for the Senior National Games, scheduled for July 2023 in Pittsburgh.
Several Mainers have thrived at national games, including the Pioneers basketball team. They won a silver medal at the 2019 Senior National Games and finished second at the 2019 Maine Senior Games after losing the gold medal game to the Connecticut Nutmegs.
The Pioneers will compete for the first time since then, with games set to start on August 27 at Saco. The team practiced every Monday in the former Catherine McAuley High School gymnasium in preparation for their games.
Dill, the captain of the Pioneers, also serves as coordinator for the Maine games.
“Our goal is to provide competition but also to encourage health and wellness,” Dill said. “I think it keeps us all healthy and young. We are still playing at our age, which is quite impressive.
Maine’s senior athletes not only stay active, but they also win.
Traditionally, the Senior National Games are held every two years, but due to the pandemic, the 2021 National Games have been pushed back to May 2022. Despite the schedule change, thousands of athletes, including more than 80 Mainers , made the trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. . Maine athletes have won 34 medals, including 10 gold medals.
Three of those medals are due to John Lightbody, a Falmouth lawyer and pickleball enthusiast. At the national games, Lightbody, 76, won two silver medals in mixed doubles and men’s doubles, as well as a bronze medal in men’s singles. He earned all of his podium finishes in the 75-79 age group while playing in the highest skill level bracket (4.0) in all three events.
“I love the competition that senior games provide,” he said. “Unlike a number of tournaments that don’t have a lot of participants in the upper age brackets, the senior games have a lot of participants…I find it offers more competition and it’s more competition at my age.”
That being said, Lightbody admits that pickleball isn’t always the only motivation for attending a tournament.
“Tournaments are always an excuse to travel,” Lightbody said. “I played pickleball in Mexico, Italy. I played in Germany. I played in England. I played in Ireland. It’s a great excuse to travel.
His goals are clear for the Maine Senior Games.
“I hope to do well enough at the Maine Games to qualify for the Senior National Games next year in Pittsburgh,” Lightbody said.
Loring DeAgazio sees the Maine Senior Games as an opportunity to continue doing what he loves, regardless of age.
DeAgazio, 72, has been participating in the Maine Senior Games since 2006. The Ogunquit native was inducted into the Maine Senior Games Hall of Fame alongside longtime bowling partner Don Clayton in 2018.
At the national games in Fort Lauderdale, Clayton and DeAgazio won a silver medal in men’s doubles. DeAgazio finished second in men’s singles bowling with a three-game average score of 215 – just 7 pins short of the gold medal average.
“We want to compete, do our best and have fun at the same time,” DeAgazio said.
Dill said about 30% of Maine Senior Games competitors are from out of state.
“We are a small state, so it’s easier to qualify (for national games) here,” she said.
However, non-staters cannot eliminate Mainers from national qualifying places.
“If you have eight people in a race where the top four qualify, and the non-Mainers finish one through four, and the Mainers finish five through eight, all eight go to nationals.” Dill explained. “Somebody can’t come into our state and kick our people out. That’s the beauty of the Senior National Games.
Registration for the Maine Senior Games is available at maineseniorgames.org. The organizers are also looking for volunteers to help organize the events.
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