Villagers get another chance at Senior Games

Karen Early, of Haciendas at Mission Hills, competes in the 50-yard freestyle event, while participating in swimming at The 2019 Villages Senior Games.

For any Villages athlete yet to book passage to next year’s National Senior Games in South Florida, one more chance is coming. The Florida Senior Games will be conducted as usual in December, creating an unprecedented third opportunity for anyone who previously fell short of nationals to add their name to a vast roster of Sunshine State entrants who won’t have to travel all that far. “We’ll round up as much of the state as we can,” quipped Nick Gandy, communications consultant for the governing Florida Sports Foundation.

The 2021 Florida Senior Games are set for Dec. 4-12 in the greater Fort Lauderdale area, where it will serve as a dry run for the national Games in May. That’s the simple part.

Where things can get complicated is how the two festivals are juxtaposed against each other, thanks to the National Senior Games moving from its original November date to next May amid COVID-19 concerns.

Those who already have earned a place at nationals – either through qualifying for the 2019 nationals in Albuquerque or via last year’s state games – will see that status unaffected. No slots are lost; that list can only grow.

But it also creates a situation in which some athletes already booked for nationals may need to go through qualifying to get back to the state Games.

“It’s very unusual,” said Bob Jennings, coach of the Villages Aquatic Swim Team. “Some people are qualified for nationals, but not qualified for this year’s states. We’re just taking it one step at a time.”

After last year’s all-comers format, the Florida Senior Games has reverted to its traditional qualifying process for such sports as swimming, track and field, pickleball, golf, table tennis and others.

“Because the majority of the local games were canceled last year, we just made it open for everyone,” Gandy said. “That’s not the case this year.”

But with The Villages Senior Games – the traditional qualifying route for locals – off the board for 2021, athletes find themselves looking at fall options. Ten local qualifiers are schedule around the state, including options this month in Gainesville and Jacksonville.

“For most of us, I’d think our options are limited to Jacksonville, Gainesville and Ormond Beach (in October),” said Rick Riddle, The Villages Track & Field Club coordinator. “The one most people are probably looking forward to is the Gainesville Senior Games. That’s coming up.”

The Gainesville festival begins this weekend, with track & field set for the following weekend at the University of Florida track.

Other potential options are the Tampa Bay Active Life Games in early October, and Sanford’s Golden Age Games in November.

“No question it’s been unusual this year,” Riddle said.

November also brings a unique situation for swimmers, with The Villages working with FSG officials to create an aquatics-only qualifier Nov. 6-7 at Laurel Manor Regional Recreation Center. The meet will be open to entrants from anywhere in the state.

“This is wonderful. The recreation department has done a great job with this,” Jennings said. “They were very willing to put this on, and we said we’d help them in any way we could. It should be a lot of fun for everybody.”

At this stage, though, it appears no other sports will offer a similar local opportunity. Lisa Parkyn, who coordinates The Villages Senior Games, noted that swimming presented a unique situation.

“Swimming works out because there were officials who were available,” said Parkyn, lifestyles event manager for The Villages Recreation & Parks. “For something like track & field, those require contractual agreements with a timing company. That would have been a hard one to work out.”

Another obstacle would be working out an arrangement with The Villages Charter School for its track facility.

“I think we’ve got enough venues that everybody feels comfortable for those who want to race,” Riddle said. “A track meet is just challenging – you’ve got to have timers, a lot of volunteers. It’s challenging. We’ll be fine going to Gainesville or Jacksonville or wherever.”

A few athletes, he noted, also will be heading to Georgia’s state games later this month as another way to qualify for nationals.

“Just in case you have a bad day at states in Florida,” Riddle said. “It’s a little bit of an insurance policy.”

A handful of sports do not require local qualifiers, including archery, badminton, volleyball and the 5K road race.

No question, though, Florida almost certainly will have the biggest roster when the National Senior Games finally kicks off. Gandy noted more than 2,700 athletes already have qualified through the first two options.

If even one-third of those attend nationals, that would equal the 900-plus Floridians who took part in the 2017 edition in Birmingham.

“I do know a lot of people from Florida are excited about going to the national Games in Fort Lauderdale,” Gandy said.

Senior writer Jeff Shain can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5283, or jeff.shain@thevillagesmedia.com.

FLORIDA SENIOR GAMES QUALIFIERS

Though athletes who have qualified for the 2022 National Senior Games are guaranteed their spots in May, many will need to go through the usual qualifying process to compete in December’s Florida State Games. Here are the remaining local qualifying options. More details are available at FloridaSeniorGames.com.

Gainesville Senior Games

Sept. 10-19

Palm Coast & the Flagler Beaches Senior Games

Sept. 10-19

Pensacola Senior Games

Sept. 10-26

Jacksonville Senior Games

Sept. 24-Oct. 2

Broward Senior Games

Oct. 3-17

Tampa Bay Active Life Games

Oct. 4-12

Cutler Bay Senior Games

Oct. 18-22

Ormond Beach Senior Games

Oct. 23-30

Martin County Senior Games

Oct. 23-31

Golden Age Games (Sanford)

Nov. 5-14