Seniors soar at Games

TUMWATER - As he repeatedly cleared the increasingly higher bar, he emitted shouts of jubilation and even offered some high-fives for spectators.

For 50-year-old Louis Baucom of Battle Ground, each bar cleared in the pole vault at Saturday's Washington State Senior Games at Tumwater High School represents athletic success and a new high in life.

Before he felt compelled to pole vault at 41, Baucom said he "would party all the time" and frequently turned to alcohol and marijuana. The addiction was serious enough that he said it took him around four years to get completely clean.

The pole vault served as his ultimate motivation to end his habits.

"I got off of cigarettes and drugs and got my life in order," said Baucom, who became eligible for the Senior Games in 2006 because he turned 50 that year. "You can't be out of shape and pole vault."

Baucom now is an assistant track coach at Battle Ground High School and Clark College in Vancouver. And while he might not clear as high as his pupils, he was "just stoked" to break the state's Senior Games record, clearing 13 feet, 9 inches, which bettered his mark of 13 feet from last year in the 50- to 54-year-old age group.

"It's nice to beat the high school kids at my age," said Baucom, who has a pit in his backyard for practice.

He now tells his athletes he has experienced the ultimate high.

"Once I learned to bend the pole and ride, there's nothing else in the world like it," he said. "There's nothing like getting high with pole vaulting."

Shot at glory

While Baucom has used the Senior Games to craft a life turnaround, Lacey's George Rowswell takes personal pride in competing in the discus and shot put. At 90, he was the oldest participant in the track-and-field events and automatically took first place in the 90- to 94-year-old division with a throw of 33-2 in the discus and 14-11 in the shot put.

"Up until this year it was competition and just (an opportunity) to meet the guys again," Rowswell said. "I can't beat them anymore, but I'm going to outlive them."

Rowswell coached baseball, basketball, football and track at several schools before returning to the South Sound to coach the track teams and teach physical education at Centralia and North Thurston High schools until his retirement in 1977.

One of his students at Centralia, 70-year-old Gene Fry of Lacey, participated in the games and finished second with a throw of 32-9 in the shot put competition for 70- to 74-year-olds. Fry said he hasn't missed a competition in 15 years, but thought that streak might end when he pulled his right Achilles tendon in September.

"I had a little race with my grandkids and it didn't want to hold up," he said.

Similar to Rowswell, Fry became an educator and even followed his coach to North Thurston. He later moved on to Timberline High School, where he coached and taught traffic safety and math before he retired 11 years ago.

Now, Fry prefers to follow his old coach out to the Senior Games.

"I never did like coaching," he said. "I did it, but for some reason I didn't enjoy it ... too many things going on.," Fry said. "I would rather play than coach. Besides that, I've got to come out and compete with (Rowswell)."

Hoop dreams

Some came a long way for Saturday's events. There were 25 basketball players in the

3-on-3 Tournament, including the Papermill Printing II team of Spokane.

"I play with a group of friends," said Jim Preston, a 53-year-old assistant principal at Mount Spokane High School. "It's a great way to get exercise and is more enjoyable than running as far as I'm concerned."

Teammate Tim Gaebe, 52, is the boys basketball coach at Shadle Park High School and said the team, which also competes at Spokane's Hoopfest, not only builds friendships, but gives him an opportunity to keep up with his players.

"I'll play them every now and again and show them how it should be done," he said.

Dash of speed

Bremerton's Steven Joyner, 53, and Vancouver's Caroline Cooney, who turns 61 on Aug. 7, each won three events and both said they like the competitive elements of the games. Joyner won the 50-meter dash (7.02 seconds), 100 (13.42) and 200 (27.34), while Cooney claimed the high jump (3-08), long jump (9-10.25) and 100 (17.05).

Cooney, a Montana native, said she elected to compete for the first time because there are more women involved now. She said she expects more women to become involved in the event in the future, partially because Title IX has given them more opportunities.

"I think it starts in high school," said Cooney, when asked why significantly fewer women compete in the state games. "I think boys are pushed into football and baseball."

Lacey's Dave and Lisbeth Naber said they were concerned that the state offered no opportunities to qualify for the National Senior Games when they moved in 1994 to the South Sound from Pennsylvania.

"We had to compete in other states (Montana and Nevada) to get into nationals," Lisbeth Naber, who won the shot put in the 75- to 79-year-old classification at 13-09, while Dave, 77, won the 5-kilometer run in the same age group at 41 minutes, 43.2 seconds. "They started some local Senior Games, but there wasn't qualifying for Nationals."

Both worked to change that - Lisbeth, 79, served as the coordinator for the state's games - and qualifying began in 1998.

In the end, the events were a celebration of different highs for everyone.