Mary Morris

Mary Morris, 76, lines up her shot during the the Philadelphia Senior Games at West Oak Lane Senior Center. Morris, who has been playing pool since she was 12 years old, won her round against Pat Gathers, 77 (right). (Emma Lee/WHYY)

At 76, Mary Morris is all about living life to the fullest and spending time in places outside her Mount Airy neighborhood in Philadelphia.

To keep moving, she does one of her favorite activities.

“I go out and dance twice a week,” said Morris, who goes to Treasures, a club in Germantown.

To keep her mind sharp, she plays the card game pinochle and billiards at a senior center in West Oak Lane.

On Monday, Morris got to test her billiards skills in a women’s tournament as part of the Philadelphia Senior Games.

The Olympic-style games are a week-long competition that combines more physically demanding activities like swimming and track and field, and lower-impact events like dominoes and darts. Event winners get their medals at a banquet held in their honor at the end of the games.

Those age 50 and older from the Philadelphia region and South Jersey are eligible to sign-up for the games, which end on Friday.

Not much is known about the games’ history, including when it started or why — it predates most of the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation staff, which helps run most of the events. One organizer said the event is expected to draw some 250 participants this year.

At the West Oak Lane Senior Center where the billiards tournament took place, Morris confidently called her shots as she ran her red-polished fingers across the green-felt pool table.

She’d take her cue stick and place it over the space between her thumb and index finger to shoot — a look of frustration would slip whenever she’d miss a shot.

While Morris is very deliberate in her decision to take part in social activities, she said not everyone her age takes the same approach.

Catherine Brown, director of the West Oak Lane Senior Center, said, “depression runs rampant” among senior citizens.

“It kind of looks something like this: can’t wait to retire, can’t wait to retire,” she said. “Then you retire and then about a month in it’s like, ‘Okay, now what?’”

Still, Alain Joinville, a spokesman for the Parks and Recreation Department, said some in their 50s don’t want to be associated with the games because they don’t want to feel old.

Pat Gathers, a 20-year Senior Games participant who also sits on the advisory board, said the games help older people stay connected and gives them something to look forward to.

“A lot of them once they retire, you know if they lose friends and whatnot, they have a tendency to stay at home,” she said. “We’re just trying to get them out and involved in something.”

For people like Morris, the friendly competition is welcome. She won the billiards 70 and older age bracket two years ago.

“It’s just like with dancing with me … You get that feeling and let it all hang out,” she said, giving her upper body a shimmy.

Carolyn Seasor, 66, who refashioned her cerulean blue Senior Games shirt by cutting some sections of the back, said she enjoyed the tournament even though she had what she considered a poor showing this year.

“It’s fun to see how much better we got when it comes to shooting against somebody else, but not in a harmful way, or in a mean way, but in a fun way,” she said. “You get a chance to enjoy them as well as seeing how much better you do.”

For all the benefits staying active and social bring, certain events show how tough it can be to get senior citizens to come out.

Activities like shooting pool don’t draw a lot of women.

Only eight women took part in the billiards tournament hosted at the West Oak Lane Senior Center on Monday.

Morris and Gathers were the only women over 70, so the first tournament round in their age bracket, was also the one that determined the winner.

“I’m a little rusty now because I don’t shoot the way I used to shoot, but I’m proud of what I did today,” said Morris, after beating Gathers.

They hope more women their age will enter the tournament next year.

“It’s just a matter of getting them out of the house and hopefully to try to get rid of that fear factor about not playing pool because it’s supposed to be a man’s game,” said Gathers, who along with some other female players, is offering free pool lessons to women at different senior centers across the city this year. — (WHYY)

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