Mo. couple train to compete in senior games -

Mo. couple train to compete in senior games

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) -- While some men take strolls with headphones and metal detectors after retirement, Bill Mabrey of Cape Girardeau has taken a different path to mining precious metal during his golden years.

The 75-year-old Mabrey takes a more active approach. His collection of metal can be found dangling from the end of red, white and blue ribbons.

He's mined around the country, competing in national competitions in softball and shuffleboard in Alabama, New York, Louisiana and Texas. He's unearthed 278 gold medals in local, state and national competitions.

His lifelong love of sports and competition knows no limits. More than 50 years after playing on the first baseball team at Southeast Missouri State and playing for the Capahas, and 12 years after having both knees replaced, Mabrey still is going strong.

"Sports is to be enjoyed and for spectators to enjoy," Mabrey said. While he had to pass on the Summer National Senior Games this year in San Francisco, he's signed up for 22 events at the Southeast Missouri Senior Games from Aug. 26 to 29 in Perryville, Mo.

"I've just taken up javelin," Mabrey said with the same enthusiasm that might have served him well when he played varsity football and baseball at Central about 60 years ago. "The thing is so light. I'm not sure what the weight is, but I have a fourth-place ribbon (at Poplar Bluff). I'm still learning."

Mabrey admits his javelin throwing still has a ways to go.

"I like doing it. I'm not good at it," Mabrey said with a smile.

But for the bespectacled Mabrey, that's half the challenge of competing in senior games. While he's won first place at the Missouri State Senior Games, held in conjunction with the Show-Me State Games, in field-goal kicking, soccer skills, horseshoes, shot put, football throwing, softball throwing and billiards, he's not afraid to try something new.

"It's something that keeps me going," Mabrey said. "In my old age, I don't want to sit around and maybe not realize the potential and success that I can have. I have so many younger friends that are retired and they don't do very much. It makes me feel young."

He often can be found honing his free-throw shooting skills at Fitness Plus as part of his workout regimen. Mabrey will go to the gym three or four days a week where he'll spend 2 1/2 to 3 hours. He'll shoot 300 free throws but will allow himself to quit if he can hit 25 out of 25. He'll follow that with strength and balance work.

He's a two-time National Senior Games champion in shuffleboard, having won with a partner and individually.

"That's not a very macho sport," Mabrey said. "I think shuffleboard players are the worst sportsmen. They break their sticks and everything.

"They all have their own sticks. They come in from Florida and California. I'm not exceptionally good. ... I just got so lucky. Actually, they beat themselves."

He often teams with his wife Arlene in shuffleboard and cites her as an example of being open-minded about trying something new.

"She had never played shuffleboard before, and she has come to find out she's pretty good at it," Mabrey said. "She had never shot baskets and free throws before, and she's very good at it. In the football and softball throws for accuracy, she's won lots and lots of medals at state."

Arlene has accumulated 76 gold medals since joining her husband in competitions 11 years ago.

"She's catching on me," Mabrey said jokingly.

Mabrey's competitive days began as a child with the Soap Box Derby, and the games have yet to stop.

He was a member of the Cape Girardeau American Legion baseball team that won a Missouri championship in 1951. After graduating from Central in 1952, he played for the Capahas baseball team for a couple of years before joining the Army-Air Force, where he was trained to be a helicopter mechanic and played two years of baseball in Special Services. He played third base for the Fort Sheridan Ramblers in Illinois then spent a year in Korea where he played baseball for the 36th Engineer Combat Group.

After serving three years in the military, Mabrey returned to Cape Girardeau and again suited up for the Capahas, played fast-pitch softball for the Howard Swan Jets and resumed work on an education degree at Southeast Missouri State. While at Southeast, he had the distinction of playing under coach Ed Williams in 1959 on the first Southeast baseball team, starting at third base on a squad that went 4-5-1.

In 1963, Mabrey married Arlene, whom he had met at Southeast, and earned his master's degree.

The couple set off for the St. Louis suburb of Valley Park, where Mabrey was the baseball coach and basketball assistant at Valley Park High School for two years. He then was contacted by the Special School District of St. Louis County to help set up the district's new athletic program.

He taught biology and physical education and also coached in the district until his retirement.

"This was, I think, the most enjoyable part of my coaching career, was working with the special needs groups," Mabrey said.

He continued to play on slow-pitch softball teams during his years of teaching.

At age 55, the first year he was eligible (the eligibility age since has dropped to 50), he became involved in the Senior Olympics. He joined the United Van Lines softball team that won eight state championships in the senior division at the Show-Me State Games and participated in six National Senior Games.

In his 20 years of involvement, Mabrey has become a strong advocate for the National Senior Games, which have increased in popularity since 1987, when the first U.S. National Senior Olympics was held in St. Louis and attracted 2,500 participants. The number of participants for the Summer National Senior Games this year was expected to exceed 12,700, and a Winter National Senior Games was added in 2000.

In addition to the Missouri State Senior Games, where the top three finishers qualify for the National Senior Games, there also are eight local events in Missouri during the spring, summer and fall. Mabrey goes to four competitions in Missouri every year.

Along with the physical benefits, there are other perks. Famous individuals often speak at the opening ceremonies, and Mabrey has met notables such as Cardinals great Stan Musial, former Cardinals manager Red Schoendiest, former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, Helen Stephens, who won the 100-meter gold medal at the 1936 Olympics in Germany, and astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space who later walked on the moon.

"The hairs kind of stood up on the back of my neck when I met Alan Shepard," Mabrey said. "I'm never at a loss for words, but when I met him I just stood there. It was really awesome."

And there can be self discovery along the way.

"If you try different events, you would surprise yourself, I think," Mabrey said. "I would almost guarantee you, if you were a girl or a lady who has never thrown a football before, or has never thrown a shot put, discus or javelin, they would surprise themselves. I would just say, try a lot of different things."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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