Pictured: Denny Aten and Michael Jantzen play Pickleball. Photo by Alicia Doyle

Older adults seem to be getting younger and younger these days, with people like 73-year-old Denny Aten, of Moorpark, who plays Pickleball several days a week along with his teammate, Michael Jantzen, 69, of Newbury Park.

As one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, Pickleball tends to attract older players because the game offers aerobic exercise without much risk of injury, and may also ward off depression, according to new studies on the benefits of the game.

Aten’s reasons for playing are simple.

“It’s a blast, it’s very competitive and very fun,” he said one recent morning after a game at Tierra Rejada Park in Moorpark. “It helps you mentally,” he added, joking, “you gotta be able to duck so the ball doesn’t hit you in the face.”

Aten and Jantzen will be among this year’s competitors at the 2019 Moorpark Senior Games, an Olympic-style event in which participants will receive gold, silver and bronze medals in their sport of choice. This year’s games, expected to draw about 200 people from all over Ventura County, will include basketball key shots, bingo, bocce ball, bowling, darts, golf, horseshoes, mah jongg, Pickleball, pinochle, poker, table tennis, tennis and Wii bowling.

The biannual event, open to folks 55 and older, brought in 170 players in 2017, and is hoped to attract more signups this year, said Wendy Hibner, supervisor of the Moorpark Active Adult Center, presenter of the Moorpark Senior Games.

“You don’t have to be an athlete,” Hibner said. “There’s an event for everybody.”

“Friendly competition”

The Moorpark Senior Games will take place Sept. 6-Oct. 4. Bingo, darts, Mah Jongg,

Donna Fischer plays Bocce Ball at the 2017 Moorpark Senior Games. Photo by Alicia Doyle

pinochle, poker, table tennis and Wii bowling will be featured at the Moorpark Active Adult Center, while Bocce ball and Pickleball players will compete at Tierra Rejada Park. A poker walk will take place at Poindexter Park. Tennis and basketball key shots will be showcased at Arroyo Vista Recreation Center in Moorpark. In Simi Valley, there will be golf at Sinaloa Golf Course and bowling at Harley’s Bowl.

The games are all about “the competitive spirit and friendly competition,” Hibner noted. “But it also encourages people that might be new to retirement that want to get out and interact with other people in the community. It’s a good way for them to test the waters . . . and become active.”

Aside from providing a healthy way to enjoy sports together, the individual events at the games “build camaraderie and lasting friendships,” said Moorpark Mayor Janice Parvin. “And if you watch them compete, you realize it’s a really healthy competition . . . it’s fun to watch.”

All the games as well as the opening (Sept. 6) and closing (Oct. 4) ceremonies — the latter of which will feature medals being presented to the winners — will be open to the public.

No matter what age you are, “it’s a special moment to win a medal in your sport, and when they have the ceremony, they razz each other — that’s my favorite part,” Parvin said. “They’re all friends so it’s fun to see them compete in a really healthy way. And they are great athletes. Unless people go and watch them, they don’t understand what great athletes they are.”

“It’s addicting”

Pickleball in particular is considered a great athletic sport for older adults, because a lot of baby boomers came from tennis or basketball, said Moorpark resident Kim Marlatt, 62, who is signing up Pickleball players for the Moorpark Senior Games.

Simply put, Pickleball is a paddle sport played with a paddle and a plastic ball with

Seniors playing table tennis. Photo by Alicia Doyle

holes that combines the elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, and is typically played on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net.

“Once they play it, they love it,” said Marlatt. “It’s addicting. You want to play it all the time. Even if you’re a beginner it’s fun.”

When Marlatt fell in love with Pickleball, she played three times a week, “and I didn’t have any experience. I played with these guys that were way over my head and they played with me until I got better. I play with a bunch of nice people and we’ve become friends. So it’s not just physical, it’s mental and social.”

Kirk Smith, 65, of Camarillo, agrees. “It’s not only good exercise, there’s good camaraderie, too.” This year, he and his wife, Terri, will play the sport at the Moorpark Senior Games, where he will compete in the advanced division after playing Pickleball for only six months.

“I’m an old tennis player and some of those skills transferred over,” said Smith, adding, “It seems to be a very fast growing sport, especially for seniors.”

For 70-year-old Kazzy Nishida, who is playing Pickleball at the Moorpark Senior Games, “I quit playing ping-pong and switched to Pickleball.”

Atmosphere for active adults

The Moorpark Senior Games create “a fun, if not competitive, atmosphere for our active adults,” said Moorpark City Councilmember David Pollock.

“Active lifestyles have proven to be one of the biggest keys to a longer and healthier life,” emphasized Pollock, noting that the games presented by the Moorpark Active Adult Center show Moorpark’s commitment to being a H.E.A.L. City.

The Healthy Eating Active Living (H.E.A.L.) Cities Campaign helps harness the power of local governments to advance health equity through resolutions with policy goals for general plans, land use, healthy food access and work site wellness. As part of its resolution as a H.E.A.L. City, Moorpark has chosen to be a leader in healthy lifestyle options, and continues to provide a variety of physical activities for all ages, including those offered at the Moorpark Senior Games.

This biannual event is significant because it encourages active adults to exercise and remain physically and mentally fit, said Gilbert Lozano, the center’s recreation coordinator. Plus, older adults will have the opportunity to compete against “some of the best that Moorpark and surrounding areas have to offer.”

He firmly believes the senior population needs to stay active and have fun to stay young, further adding that studies have proven when seniors are active, they tend to live longer.

“It is nice to have this competition, but we are here to promote healthy living (rather) than the competition aspect of the games,” Lozano said. “At the end of the day, we encourage good sportsmanship, and that is demonstrated through all of our events.”

While it’s great to see competitors win, “I get a kick seeing all of the new relationships that are built in these few days — this camaraderie really promotes what we are here for, and that is to have a good time while competing for gold,” Lozano added. “It is really special to see our population embrace everyone; that special feeling really helps them to stay young. We can learn a thing or two from these competitors.”

The Moorpark Senior Games take place Sept. 6-Oct 4. For more information, contact the Moorpark Active Adult Center, 799 Moorpark Ave., at 805-517-6261 or visit www.moorparkca.gov/200/Active-Adult-Center.