Even competitive volleyball player Anna Frey wasn’t sure how to size up the competition.
The players across the net certainly knew how to serve, and they could spike the ball with great force. They worked well together as a team. They commanded the court.
And several of them were pushing 70 and sporting artificial hips.
“They were good!” said Frey, a freshman at Bloomington’s Kennedy High School after playing against the seniors in a recent game. “They kept the ball alive. I was a little surprised at first.”
The Born Again Jocks, a Bloomington-based club of athletes 55 and older, have been surprising Kennedy and Jefferson High School students for years in monthly volleyball matchups.
The Jocks are good — two of their teams have qualified for this year’s National Senior Games, to be held in Twin Cities this summer. It’s rare for the students to best the seniors, some of whom don’t hesitate to dive for a ball despite hip and knee replacements.
“I think they’re just amazed we can still walk and talk,” joked 69-year-old Bob Wandberg, one of the Born Again Jocks’ volleyball team organizers.
The club has been around for almost 30 years, and members are staples at Bloomington’s various athletic complexes.
While the 300 or so club members participate in several sports — softball, golf, cycling — it’s volleyball that brings them in regular contact with local students, much to the delight of everyone involved in the games, which typically take place during physical education classes.
The games give senior citizens a chance to stay connected to Bloomington schools and students, which can be difficult when children grow up and move away. And students get the opportunity to see firsthand how staying active and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can benefit them as they age.
“I think our students gain a healthy respect and appreciation for these former athletes,” said Todd Kennedy, a phy ed instructor at Kennedy. “They may be older, but they play some really good volleyball.”
Staying fit, and winning
For the recent matchup, as with most Born Again Jocks games, Kennedy assembled a team of ringers, students who had some volleyball experience and had the potential to give the senior citizens a good run.
As with most such games, the Jocks beat the kids.
Frey, who plans to play on Kennedy’s volleyball team next year, admitted she initially didn’t give the game her all because she wasn’t sure what to expect from a squad of senior citizens.
It’s a mistake commonly made by students who find themselves on the opposite side of the net from the Born Again Jocks, Kennedy said.
“I think most of our students really don’t know what they’re getting into with these games,” he said. “They find out real quick that they need to bring their ‘A’ game.”
Most of the senior volleyball players are former athletes and extremely fit. They practice for two hours three times a week. Team members say the regular physical activity has benefits that extend far beyond dominance on the court.
For example, Gary Hassert, 70, recently resumed playing volleyball after having hip replacement surgery in late October.
“I really think regular exercise has promoted faster healing,” he said.
Beating students one-quarter of their age requires more than just stamina. And it requires the senior citizens to play smart.
“It’s kind of like real estate,” Wandberg said. “It’s about location, location, location.”
Paul Johnson, a 79-year-old retired Honeywell engineer, said he’s amazed that some of the youngsters the seniors face “can jump like deer.”
“But we have experience on our side,” he added.