Jo Dill caught the ball in the post, faked a drop step right, spun left, and finished high off the glass over the smaller defender. The move would have make Hakeem Olajuwon proud.
Yet for Dill, this was just another day at practice. Dill is the captain and center for the Maine Pioneers, a basketball team based in southern Maine for women aged 70 years and older. For weeks, the team has been training for the upcoming Maine Senior Games.
The Senior Games will be held at venues across the state in the coming months, starting with track and field events at St. Joseph’s College in Standish on July 16 and concluding with a 10-pin bowling tournament in Augusta on Oct. 2. Other competitions include pickleball, racquetball, a buoy toss, table tennis, archery, tennis, cycling, golf, candlepin bowling, swimming, cornhole, a 10-kilometer race, a one-mile race/power walk, and a 5K race/power walk.
Organizers expect 500 to 600 athletes to compete. Anyone 45 or older is eligible, but athletes only compete against those in their age group, divided into five-year ranges (such as 65-to-69). Out-of-staters are allowed to compete in the Maine Senior Games.
This year’s games will give athletes the opportunity to qualify for the National Senior Games, scheduled for July 2023 in Pittsburgh.
Several Mainers have flourished at the national games, including the Pioneers basketball team. They won a silver medal in the 2019 National Senior Games, and finished second at the 2019 Maine Senior Games after losing the gold medal match to the Connecticut Nutmegs.
The Pioneers will be competing for the first time since then, with games slated to begin on Aug. 27 in Saco. The team has been practicing every Monday at the old Catherine McAuley High School gym in preparation for its games.
Dill, the Pioneers’ captain, also serves as the coordinator for the Maine games.
“Our goal is to provide competition but also to encourage health and wellness,” Dill said. “I think it keeps us all healthy and young. We are still playing at our age, which is pretty impressive.”
Not only are Maine’s senior athletes staying active, but they are winning, as well.
Traditionally, the National Senior Games are held on a biannual basis, but because of the pandemic the 2021 national games were pushed to May 2022. Despite the scheduling change, thousands of athletes, including over 80 Mainers, made the trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Maine athletes won 34 medals, including 10 gold medals.
Three of those medals are thanks to John Lightbody, a Falmouth lawyer and pickleball enthusiast. At the national games, Lightbody, 76, earned two silver medals in the mixed doubles and men’s doubles brackets, as well as a bronze medal in men’s singles. He earned all of his podiums in the 75-79 age group while playing in the highest skill level bracket (4.0) in all three events.
“I enjoy the competition that the senior games provide,” he said. “Unlike a number of tournaments which have not very many participants in the older age brackets, the senior games have a lot of participants … I find that it provides more competition and it’s more competition at my age.”
That being said, Lightbody admits that pickleball is not always the sole motivation for attending a tournament.
“Tournaments are always an excuse to travel,” Lightbody said. “I’ve played pickleball in Mexico, Italy. I’ve played in Germany. I’ve played in England. I’ve played in Ireland. It’s a great excuse to travel.”
His objectives are clear for the Maine Senior Games.
“I am hoping to do well enough at the Maine games to qualify for the National Senior Games next year in Pittsburgh,” Lightbody said.
Loring DeAgazio sees the Maine Senior Games as an opportunity to continue to do what he loves, regardless of his age.
DeAgazio, 72, has participated in the Maine Senior Games since 2006. The Ogunquit native was inducted into the Maine Senior Games Hall of Fame alongside his long-term bowling partner, Don Clayton, in 2018.
At the national games in Fort Lauderdale, Clayton and DeAgazio captured with a silver medal in men’s doubles. DeAgazio finished second in the singles men’s bowling with an average score of 215 over three games – just 7 pins behind the gold medal average.
“We want to compete, do as well as we can, and have fun at the same time,” DeAgazio said.
Dill said about 30 percent of competitors at the Maine Senior Games come from out of state.
“We are a small state, so it’s easier to qualify (for the national games) here,” she said.
However, out-of-staters cannot bump Mainers out of national qualifying spots.
“If you have eight people in a race where the top four qualify, and non-Mainers finish one through four, and Mainers finish five through eight, all eight go to nationals.” Dill explained. “Someone can’t come into our state and push our people out. That’s the beauty of the National Senior Games.”
Sign-ups for the Maine Senior Games are available at maineseniorgames.org. Organizers are also looking for volunteers to help run the events.