Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Love it! CNA BLOG

These guys (still) like to spike
Men in the tourney’s oldest age division keep competing because they can.
Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune MAC Magic’s Jake Barkdoll spikes the ball over Rustys’ Gordon Peak on Tuesday in the 73-and-over men’s division of the USA Volleyball Open National Championships taking place at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City.
They can be found in the back corner of a large ballroom at the Calvin L. Rampton Salt Palace Convention Center, playing with rebuilt shoulders and on creaking knees. Some are bald, others sport shocks of pure-white hair.
And if you’re 73, they call you “kid.”
Meet the guys who are competing in the 73-and-over men’s division at the USA Volleyball Open National Championships, which has descended on Salt Lake City this week with 443 teams in all age groups, professional and amateurs. The tournament began over the weekend and runs through Saturday.
Those competing in the tourney’s oldest age division can’t move with the lateral quickness of their younger counterparts. And age has taken a toll on their vertical lift. Six weeks ago, a member of one of the 73-and-over teams suffered a heart attack. But he still made it to Utah.
“Anything you can think of that’s associated with age, we’ve had,” said Jake Barkdoll, the 78-year old player/coach of the Mid-Atlantic Club from Maryland. With piercing blue eyes and a 6-foot-3 frame, he still looks like an athlete.
“It’s amazing that they don’t have more problems,” said Barkdoll’s wife, Linda Suydam. “This team has been a very healthy team.”
So why do they still play? Because they can.
“It feels good to hit the ball,” said Barkdoll, who founded the Mid-Atlantic Club in 1992. Also known as the MAC Magic, the team has secured an astounding collection of hardware: 45 gold medals, 20 silvers and 18 bronzes over the past two decades.
MAC Magic won its 83rd medal Tuesday in a victory against Midwest (Michigan). In seven matches at this tournament, the team dropped only three sets.
Based in Maryland, Mid-Atlantic’s players hail from all over the country, gathering to compete annually at the National Championships and the Huntsman World Senior Games in Cedar City.
Every other year, the group also teams up for the National Senior Olympics. Spread out from Florida to Ohio, the players do not have time to practice together. Still, they play on their own to keep their game up, usually lacing up twice a week.
The team members’ backgrounds are as varied as their locations.
Barkdoll is a former engineer who also worked as an associate commissioner for the FDA. He currently lives in New Mexico, where he — like his teammates — enjoys retirement and plays volleyball regularly, often with men decades younger.
Bob Quackenbush is a former West Point cadet and military man who uses the gym at the Pentagon. From high school teachers to business owners, their past lives run the proverbial gamut.
What unites them is volleyball, simple and pure. Younger teams at the Salt Palace dared to wear tie-dye shorts or shirts with names like “Iron Man” and “Kal-El” across the back. The Magic, meanwhile, opted for an understated combination of red shirts and blue shorts. Most tuck in the shirts.
National success helped the team branch out from the Maryland area, and they began recruiting for quick reflexes and good instincts. At their age, though, knowledge of the game becomes infinitely more precious.
“Players who have played for a long time, they just have grooves in their head,” Barkdoll said. “They know where the ball’s going to be.”
Steady servers also help, and the Magic have one in Mike Maguire. Down one set to Rusty’s (Oregon) in the semifinals, Maguire opened the second set with a commanding serve, helping his team seize a 9-0 lead.
The key is knowing when to hit hard and when to hit softly.
“When you see a nice floater, you get so busy staring at the label on the ball you forget to play it,” says Barkdoll, who was named Most Valuable Player for 73-and-over division.
There are moments when these older guys still look young. A good play might yield a butt pat or a tongue wag. A bad one might end with the ball being thrown hard into the floor.
Almost all of them are volleyball lifers, and the passion is still alive.
Celebrations, though, tend to be toned down. Gotta preserve those knees.

© 2012 The Salt Lake Tribune
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