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Still seeking competition — and fun: Women’s volleyball at a high level

It will surprise almost no one that I still love to play volleyball, even decades after first competing in junior high. On Saturday, June 8, I had the chance to reunite with a couple of teammates I originally played with over 30 years ago in the Boston area.

The occasion was the Massachusetts Senior Games, a qualifier for the National Senior Games (a.k.a. Senior Olympics) to be held in Des Moines, Iowa in July 2025. The average attendance at the two-week long National Games, held every other year, is about 10,000 people. In 2025, 26 sports will be represented.

Senior games are broken into brackets by five-year age groups. The youngest you can be to qualify for the Senior Games is 50. The team I was playing on, the New England 49ers, played in the 55 and older division. The level is determined by the youngest player on the roster, so despite being in the 55s, three on the team were 60 or older.

Liz Hendrick and I played against one another in college. She was an Albany Great Dane and I was a proud member of Cornell’s Big Red. Shortly after graduation, when we both lived in the Boston area, we played on a couple of teams together, as well as at the Bay State Games. Once I moved to Shelter Island in 1990, we would occasionally play in a master’s level national tournament, traveling to Atlanta, Phoenix and Detroit together.

The last several years, I hadn’t been able to play due to COVID and work conflicts. However, this one-day qualifier on a weekend was perfect. There were seven of us on the team, ranging in age from 55 to 64. Some of us had never met one another, but we quickly melded into teammates and friends.

Despite the somewhat slower pace of the game than when we were younger, it was still immensely fun to be playing “real volleyball,” instead of just pick-up. There were flashes of brilliance as some hard hits, booming blocks and fabulous saves drew admiration from both sides of the net. While we were certainly there to compete, there was no doubt that the real purpose of the day was to not just play well, but to have fun. 

It was awesome to see so many mature women still playing. I have to admit that the between-match conversations were a bit different from the past. Photos of grandchildren, talks about retirement or shoulder and knee surgeries were things I couldn’t have imagined when I was playing in my prime.

The court featuring two teams of women 75 and older was inspiring. These were athletes who never had the benefit of Title IX, which gave equal funding to men’s and women’s sports teams. Before 1972, many schools had limited sports opportunities for women and girls. Yet they found a way to play the game and remain active well into their senior years.

At the end of the day we were tired and sweaty, but quite happy. Did we qualify? Yes!

The New England 49ers took the Silver Medal, losing a so-close match to the Gold Medal team by 2 points. We are already planning a week of fun (and perhaps revenge) in the Midwest next summer.