The cheers you'll hear at the Darien Senior Activities Center bowling alley aren't different from those you'd hear at any other one.
"Knock 'em all down this time, ya hear me?!"
The only difference is, instead of the cheers being accompanied by the thundering crack of a bowling ball against the pins, they're accompanied by a simulated sound and a voice that says "strike" or "spare."
It's because they're bowling on a Wii.
Coached by volunteer Michelle S. Kelsey, members of the center will compete in the 2013 National Senior League on Monday, Feb. 11, which brings senior centers all across the country together for a Wii bowling competition. The teams will have four bowlers play with up to eight players being allowed on the roster, and play one match (two games) a week. Darien members will bowl right from the comfort of the senior center's virtual bowling alley against seven other teams in their division. They will play one team each week with the winners advancing to the playoff, which can take one to three weeks.
"This is the first time they will start in a tournament," Kelsey said.
While Kelsey has no prior experience with bowling as a sport, she said most of the seniors who signed up for the team have bowled competitively. On the other hand, most of them never had played anything on the Wii, which is where Kelsey's forte lies.
The seniors are split into teams of four or eight and on Wednesdays at 11 a.m. they practice for about an hour playing two 40-minute matches and discussing the nuances of the game and how they can improve.
Ron Heinbough, 84, doesn't think having actual bowling experience helps.
He smiled as he said "a novice can come in and knock down a few pins, you know?"
Heinbough believes the results are partially determined by the Wii.
"I've had balls that I know are in the strike zone that leave me a pin," Heinbough said. "Yesterday, I had a game where I scored 187. The next game I had six strikes in a row and ended with 233. It's either going to give you the strikes and your percentage is going to go up or you're going to be flat."
As for competing in the tournament, Heinbough said he can't wait.
Kelsey said all of the players support each other, but they're also very competitive.
"They don't hesitate to brag when they get a good score," Kelsey said.
Joan Houseworth, 84, hadn't bowled in about 10 years before the Wii came along.
She said bowling on it is "different."
"I have to say it's easier because I usually get 200," Houseworth said. "I never got a 200 before."
In the 20-plus years she bowled, she broke 200 four times.
She's excited about competing in the NSL, but she seemed a little nervous.
"One game I'll do really well, the next I might get a 198 -- but you can only say this is the one you're going to bowl and bowl, so if I get a lousy score, that's sad," Houseworth said.
She said she's not heartbroken if she loses, and she really does it for fun, adding "Ron wants to win, though."
"We try, and it's fun," Houseworth said.
The oldest bowler on the team, Marie Blaco, is 94, and perhaps the most competitive of them all.
"We used to say `Good, Marie!' and Marie would say `Good for nothing! That was an awful shot!'" Kelsey said.
Blanco has a habit of talking to the Wiimote before throwing the ball, and while she was relatively quiet during her first practice game, the second game really brought her competitive spirit out.
"I talked to you but you didn't listen," Blanco sighed at the remote after not closing the frame.
Blanco bowled for quite some time when she was younger, but noted that she was "never particularly good."
"I enjoy the people, so I bowl," Blanco said.
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