On Friday, the 2015 Waccamaw Sports Classic will bring men and women from Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties together to compete in the senior games at Coastal Carolina University.
The games offer recreational and competitive athletes the opportunity to enjoy a day that focuses attention on wellness and regular physical exercise. Seniors age 50 and above will compete in divisions based on their age. First-, second- and third-place medals will be awarded by gender and age group.
“I think it’s very important for the community to come out and get involved because it has a social benefit to it and a physical benefit,” said Don Rockey, associate professor of recreation and sports management at CCU.
“The key to the event is it should not just be a one-day event,” he said. “It should be a lifestyle.”
Most of the participants are active and are playing games all year at senior centers, recreation centers and other locations.
In the past, the event has not brought out many spectators who were not participating, but spectators are welcome, Rockey said.
Students in his leadership class will be leading the games, which benefits them in several ways, including giving them the opportunity to interact with members of a different generation.
But when it comes to the game of pickleball, the students won’t be leading; they will be assisting the leader, Rena Grant, who is well-known in the area as the pickleball ambassador and has done a great deal to raise awareness of the sport.
“The good thing about pickleball is you can do it at any age,” said Grant of the paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. “I’ll be 92 in November, and I’m still doing it.”
Grant, a native of the Tabor City, N.C., area, grew up on a farm and graduated from high school there in 1941. She left soon after that, moving to Pennsylvania, where she lived for most of her life with her late husband. In 1996, she moved to Myrtle Beach, bringing her love of the senior games with her.
“I’ve been active in the senior games for a long time,” she said. “I’m thankful that they have them. I think it’s a wonderful thing for people to do. They offer an awful lot, and they’re well-run.”
Grant was named a pickleball ambassador by the USA Pickleball Association in 2009.
“Ambassador is a name, and you know what that means — that means work,” Grant said.
In October, she was back in her hometown, riding in the Tabor City Yam Festival parade as pickleball ambassador.
Grant, who also will compete in other games Friday, has taught pickleball to hundreds of people at area senior centers and other locations. In 2014, she organized the successful Seaside Pickleball Tournament, and the second one is planned for October 2-3 this year in Myrtle Beach.
“She’s an amazing lady,” said Kim Parker, senior program coordinator at the Horry County Parks and Recreation Department, which is among numerous agencies, organizations and others in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties involved in the planning and presenting of the Waccamaw Sports Classic. Parker said the event grows every year in sponsorships and the number of seniors participating. In 2014, 350 seniors competed, she said, and they are expecting more this year.
“We’re excited about the eighth annual senior games,” said Laura Cason, aging program coordinator for the Waccamaw Regional Council of Governments. “We welcome any senior in Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg to come participate and enjoy the games.”
In addition to the games, seniors also are offered health education sessions presented by faculty members or professionals.
Some “wraparound” events already have been held. The last one is a golf tournament on April 17, which is being presented by the program and event management class at CCU.
The Waccamaw Sports Classic is sanctioned and “feeds into” the S.C. Senior Games, which will be held in May at Francis Marion University in Florence, and the National Senior Games in Minnesota in July.
Participants must pay a registration fee and present a copy of their driver’s license. Parking is limited on the CCU campus, but shuttle service will be available between the Williams-Brice Building and the Track and Field site.