Upstate New Yorker Cass Curtis has not only found a new home in Abbeville County, he has discovered a group of active friends by participating in the Upper Savannah Senior Sports Classic.
The 75-year-old retired automotive engineer from Hudson Falls, N.Y., won four gold medals in track and field competition Friday. And although he was not among the biggest winners at the Games, he is among its biggest fans.
“I ran in similar type events in New England and I thought the one in Greenwood was done the best,” Curtis said. “Everything went off extremely well.”
The Senior Sports Classic enables adults 50 and older to compete for gold (first place), silver (second) and bronze (third) medals in men’s and women’s age groups in events including golf, table tennis, bowling, basketball, swimming, track and field, croquet, shuffleboard, horseshoes, and spin casting.
A record 377 registered for the 13th annual event held Tuesday through Friday at the Greenwood Family YMCA, Expo 300 in Greenwood, and McCormick’s Savannah Lakes Village.
Curtis said the Upper Savannah event was well-organized.
“They had a lot of volunteer help which is obviously the key,” said Curtis, who won first place in the men’s 75-79 age division in the 50-, 100- and 400-meter dashes, and the standing broad jump.
“Everything was on time,” he said. “The last time I ran in one was in New Hampshire and I thought Greenwood did a better job. I have run in a lot of events, not only this one, but Masters events and marathons. I have done this a lot.
“The friendliness and the attitude of the people putting this on and the friendliness and attitude of the competitors was outstanding. It was more of a homey atmosphere. After we competed and sat down to have lunch, people who I competed against said, ‘come sit over here so we can talk.’ So myself and my wife (Pam) did. They are good folks.”
The Curtises moved to Abbeville approximately 14 months ago, finding a home in an unorthodox way. South Carolina beckoned because Pam had lived in Kingstree during her childhood.
“We found a place on-line, purchased it, and we came down to see what we had bought,” Curtis said, with a laugh.
The former long-distance runner then found that there were senior games in the area.
“Last year, I missed it,” Curtis said. “But I saw results in the newspaper (The Index-Journal) and I had told my wife that this is something that I will do next year. So I watched the paper, and five or six weeks ago, I saw an article. I got my entry form, filled it in, and participated yesterday (Friday).”
Elaine League of Clinton was the top gold medalist, winning all 18 events in which she participated. Donald Blackmon of Ninety Six placed in 20 events, winning 11 gold medals. Bobby Baker of Sumter also won 11 gold medals.
Other top winners included Ken Frazier of Laurens and Matilda Freeland, 85, of McCormick with eight gold medals and three silver medals apiece. Tommy Henderson of McCormick won seven gold medals while 87-year-old Wesley Commons resident Jeb Stewart and 84-year-old James Cogburn of Ware Shoals earned five gold medals apiece.
The 90-and-over age brackets were also used with 91-year-old Elizabeth Burt of Trenton winning gold medals in frisbee golf and softball throw. Ninety-year-olds Ola Ouzts of Ware Shoals and Phil Bates of Greenwood won gold medals in shuffleboard and golf, respectively.
The Upper Savannah Games also had a national champion competing. Bob Rockwell of Taylors won the USA Masters Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the triple jump in 2007 and 2001. He also finished tied for first in the long jump (settling for second on a tie-breaker) in the 2007 event in Orono, Me., and was fifth in the high jump. He is also a USA Masters Indoor Track & Field Championship triple jump past champion.
Rockwell, 58, also competed in the national Senior Olympics in Louisville, Ky., last year, finishing second in the triple jump, fourth in the long jump, and sixth in the high jump. Rockwell attended the Upper Savannah Games with friend Gene Thompson and won four gold medals, five silvers and a bronze in track and field events as well as table tennis. Thompson also placed in several events.
“It’s good competition. I enjoy these senior games,” said Rockwell, a pipe designer who works for an engineering company in Greenville. “It keeps me in shape in my older age.”
Rockwell was impressed that the likes of Burt, who is 33 years older than he, won two gold medals including one in frisbee golf, which requires a lot of walking.
“I have a lot of respect for older people who are in good physical shape,” he said. “I really admire them.”
Another Upper Savannah competitor hoping to again accomplish an impressive feat is Willie Christopher, a 70-year-old farmer’s market vendor from Greenwood who hopes to repeat a 162-mile bicycle ride to his Watson-Wideman-Tolbert family reunion in Rentz, Ga.
He made the trip twice in the 1980s, completing the trek in 14 hours one year and in 13 hours and 10 minutes another year. Twenty years later, Christopher hopes to make the trip again.
“I am going to take my third ride on my 26-inch bike,” said Christopher, who plans to begin training in November. “The last time, I counted 62 hills (between Greenwood and Rentz). There are a lot of hills between Greenwood and Abbeville that I will train on. If I don’t make it in one day (to Georgia), I am going to finish it up the second day.”
Christopher, who won gold medals in the 10-kilometer and one-mile bicycle races as well as the 1500-meter race walk, is asking his family members to pledge 50 cents per mile for his bike ride and will donate one dollar per mile himself for a family trip.
The Classic opened Tuesday with golf at Savannah Lakes Village’s Monticello Golf Club. Sam Zittrouer of Ninety Six carded the lowest score among the 128 golfers who battled a tough course, shooting a 6-over-par 77. Pat McCutcheon of Greenwood led the women with an 87.
Benjamin Jackson of McCormick was the top overall bowler with a three-game score of 580 at Expo 300 on Wednesday. Barbara Sibert of McCormick had the women’s top total of 552.
Events continued Thursday with shuffleboard, table tennis, croquet, miniature golf and bicycle racing at Savannah Lakes. On Friday, the YMCA hosted racquetball, basketball, track events, softball throw, spin casting, horseshoes and frisbee golf.
The Games ended on Friday with Isaac Shaffer and George Drennon hitting game-winning shots in highly-competitive 3-on-3 basketball games that included 50-49 and 51-47 scores.
The Senior Expo was also held on Friday at Greenwood Mall in conjunction with the Classic with entertainment, information booths, and health screenings provided by the Abbeville Area Medical Center.
Silver medals sponsors for the Classic were Greenwood Mall, Greenwood YMCA, Mary Ann Smith Insurance Agency, National Health Care, Self Regional Health Care, Sunny 103.5/1090 The Ticket, and Wal-Mart. Bronze sponsors were Advanced Biomechanical Solutions and Hospice Care of South Carolina. Event sponsors were Capsugel, Elliott Davis LLC, Emerald Gardens, Morningside Assisted Living, and Wingard’s Pharmacy.
Following are men's (M) and women's (W) first-, second- and third-place results by event and age group from the Upper Savannah Senior Sports Classic Sept. 2-5.
M 60-64 – 1, Tommy Henderson, 42. 2, Irvin Gibert, 54.
M 65-69 – 1, Ray White, 43. 2, Leroy Chrisley, 45.
M 70-74 – 1, Jim Bleakley, 41. 2, Bobby Baker, 44. 3, Darlo Daly, 45.
M 75-79 – 1, Donald Blackmon, 47.
M 70-74 – 1, Bobby Baker, 2:55.12.
W 50-54 – 1, Ann Moore, 56.97.
W 60-64 – 1, Elaine League, 57.84.
W 75-79 – 1, Marion Clark, 2:10.10.
M 70-74 – 1, Bobby Baker, 1:03.45.
W 50-54 – 1, Ann Moore, 5:35.08.
W 60-64 – 1, Elaine League, 5:37.48.
M 70-74 – 1, Bobby Baker, 6:42.68.
W 50-54 – 1, Ann Moore. 1:48.13.
W 60-64 – 1, Elaine League, 1:16.75.
W 75-79 – 1, Marion Clark, 1:21.46.
M 70-74 – 1, Bobby Baker, 1:27.69.
W 50-54 – 1, Ann Moore, 3:28.56.
W 60-64 – 1, Elaine League, 3:24.65.
M 70-74 – 1, Bobby Baker, 2:13.13.
W 50-54 – 1, Ann Moore, 2:35.28.
W 60-64 – 1, Elaine League, 2:42.38.
M 70-74 – 1, Bobby Baker, 3:00.
W 50-54 – 1, Ann Moore, 1:09.56.
W 60-64 – 1, Elaine League, 1:14.59.
W 50-54 – 1, Ann Moore, 2:35.04.
W 60-64 – 1, Elaine League, 2:50.16.
W 50-54 – 1, Ann Moore, 4:54.53.
W 60-64 – 1, Elaine League, 4:26.23.
M 70-74 – 1, Bobby Baker, 5:23.56.
M 50-54 – 1, Rudy Dendy, George Drennon, Robert Fuller, Floyd Neyman. 2, Jimmy Padgett, Ted Hinzman, Bill Womble, Billy Nicholson, Charlie Sacoco. 3, Bob Bentley, Isaac Shaffer, Tim Woolston, Bill Wilson.
M 55-59 – 1, Ken Frazier, Marcus Fisher, Charlie Short, David Hunnicutt.
M 60-64 – 1, Bobby Baker, Charlie Tanner, John Snowden, George Brown, Ed Krajack, Dave Neilson.
Thursday, Sept. 4
Savannah Lakes Village
W 60-64 – 1, Barbara Varnadore. 2, Mary Barr. 3, Janette Blackmon.