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20180208 Shuffleboard GAO HERB 0209Spectators were dressed for a bit of cool weather last Friday while watching the Golden Age Olympics Shuffleboard doubles competition at Casa Del Sol Resort in Donna. The tournament runs through Feb. 23.

One of the best aspects to the sport of shuffleboard is “it’s not hard to play, “says Venis Hall, who at 96 is the oldest participant in the Golden Age Olympics (GAO) Tournament going on twice a week at Casa Del Sol Resort in Donna.

Hall, watching the doubles tourney on Friday, Feb. 2, has been “shuffling” for 20 years, most of it in the expert category. To be recognized an expert a player must accumulate 50 points within two years, which is attained by winning or placing high in tournaments, which go on weekly at parks in the Rio Grande Valley from November through mid-March. Tournaments are played ln singles, doubles and mixed competitions.

Hall says he and his wife, Betty, wouldn’t be here (in the Valley) if it wasn’t for shuffleboard. “We just like to shuffle,” he said, while also pointing out that his wife has not only been a GAO winner several times in the past but has also earned first place trophies at the state and national levels.

The couple, from Pineville, Missouri, who stay at Snow to Sun RV and MH Park in Weslaco, have found those who shuffle are “a good family of people.” He added, “When you need help, they are right there for you.”

Sharon Jacks, from Gas City, Indiana, came to Casa Del Valle RV Resort in 1996 with her husband and they were into square dancing. Her husband had a bad fall in 2004 and that ended the dancing. But wanting to do something, they took up shuffleboard. Two years later in 2006, Sharon reached the expert level, the same year she lost her husband. She found shuffleboard to be “a very social thing where you meet many nice people.”

20180208 Shuffleboard GAO HERB 0205Many of the players are Canadians, with many having a background in the popular sport of curling, which has some similarities. Bill Piett from Erickson, Manitoba, has played the sport a lot over the past 30 years and had his first trophy in 1988. He became the first one to reach 2,000 points a few years back. Piett, who stays at Pine to Palm Resort in Weslaco, is now at about 2,300, but attributes much of it to good partners.

Currently, for doubles, his partner is Jim Coates, from Brandon Manitoba, who also stays at Pine to Palm, a park started by a Canadian with a large clientele of those from Canada. Piett has a new partner for the mixed division in Shirley Crocker, coming from Victoria Palms in Donna.

Piett, who has been to international shuffleboard tourneys in Australia and Japan, plays every week. He likes sports and says “shuffleboard is easy to play, it’s inexpensive and you meet a lot of people.”

One of those he met, was Clayton Bakke from Regina, Saskatchewan, a very good opponent for two years. Now Piett sees Bakke’s son, Garth, at the tournaments. The younger Bakke, who has been at Pine and Palms for five years, was shuffling last Friday and said he had the privilege of having his expert dad as a partner for two years after being introduced to the sport along with strategies. Both had also curled back home in Canada.

Usually if one is good at curling, it carries over to shuffleboard, Bakke said. This is the second year he has been joined by Eric Polzin, from Janesville, Wisconsin, as partner. For the mixed division, Bakke’s partner is Barb Brezinski, from The Pas, Manitoba, who has been among the shufflers from Pine to Palm for the last 17 winters.

20180208 Shuffleboard GAO HERB 0216She has been in tournaments for the past seven years and reached expert status two years ago. It was her husband, Ron, an expert for many years, whose passion rubbed off on her. “I enjoy it and moving up brings more of a challenge,” Brezinski said. “I love meeting all the people.”

The tournament runs until Feb. 23, according to Ed Yauchzae, shuffleboard chairman at the host park, who sees that the 20 courts are in top shape along with cleaning and waxing the discs. Individuals and teams are eliminated after two losses.

The GAO tourney has been held at Casa Del Sol for many years, with Yauchzae, also an expert, being involved with it for the last 14 years. The courts are considered among the best in the RGV, and he stressed the condition of them is only made possible by the volunteers. A number of residents return to the park each year because of the great shuffleboard courts.

Yauchzae said, “A lot of shufflers [here] are the best in the state.” Many of the top players will be seen at the Feb. 18 GAO Awards Banquet. It will be held at Texas Trails RV Resort in Pharr starting with refreshment time at 5 p.m. and dinner at 6 p.m.

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