Official logo of the Nebraska Senior Games held in Kearney, Nebraska
Courtesy by Nebraska Senior Games

Sports are not limited to a specific age, the Nebraska Senior Games wants to make sure that the older demographic of athletes do not get left out.

The Nebraska Senior Games are held every other year in Kearney, Nebraska. This has been an ongoing tradition since the games were first brought to Kearney in 1989.

“The Kearney Visitors Bureau [in 1989] received a postcard about the National Senior Olympics and they were curious so they visited these Olympics and thought it would be a great thing to bring back to Kearney,” said event coordinator Jade Brown. “We partnered with the Bureau to develop the games and we’ve been running ever since.”

Brown, who is the Kearney Park and Recreations Superintendent, has been the Nebraska Senior Games coordinator for the past eight years. She was in charge of coordinating the Senior Games before being promoted to superintendent but enjoyed the games so much she brought them along with her.

Not only does she enjoy the games, but so do all of the participants.

“We’ve had a lot of people be very grateful,” said Brown when asked if the senior participants are ready to get the games going. “I think people are ready to get out and participate, but yet there are people who have decided to not participate this year, which is fine.”

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with a demographic of people that have been labeled to be more susceptible to the virus, Brown confirmed there have been additional safety measures and precautions that will be put into place.

The Nebraska Senior Games consist mostly of outdoor events but a few are indoor which are hosted in Kearney Public Schools facilities. In these facilities, it is a protocol that everyone is to take temperatures before entering any of the buildings.

“We are highly encouraging people to wear their face masks when they can,” said Brown. “People will be taking the normal precautions, covering their faces, washing their hands, and we will be providing hand sanitizer stations on site. We’re asking them to maintain the six feet social distancing rule when they can and us, as staff, will be constantly disinfecting the highly touched surfaces and objects like equipment.”

Although the games do not typically get many outside spectators, Brown verified that any spectators will also obey those same sanitation rules.

The unique thing about the Senior Games is that they are not exclusive to just Nebraska. They hold a National Games every year in between “qualifying years” for the athletes that are at the top of their respective sports. They compete among the other top competitors from other states.

“The majority of the other states have either canceled or postponed their games later into the fall,” Brown said. “There’s a new rule that if a state cannot host their games, and since this year is a qualifying year for Nationals next year, participants that have qualified in previous years, like 2016 and 2018, will automatically qualify for the 2021 National Games.”

For states like Nebraska, who are hosting the games, they will be allowed to send this year’s qualifiers along with the ones from 2018 to Nationals.

Even though Nebraska is still hosting their games this year, attendance will be down compared to previous years.

“Typically in qualifying years our participant numbers are in the 380-390 range, our most being 405,” said Brown. “This year we are at 291, so we are down about 100 participants than we normally are, which is to be expected but I’m happy with the number we have, it was more than I had expected.”

The popularity of events may change the outlook for a few of the sports since the numbers are going to be down in participants.

“Our most popular event is track and field, for example, we have 90 people signed up for T&F,” Brown said. “Then we have 47 people signed up for cycling, pickleball at 38 people, but that’s usually one that will be in the 70s with participants. Bowling is typically a popular one, this year the numbers are down to 26.”

In addition, they also had to cancel a couple of sports as well.

“This year we aren’t hosting our Pitch tournament (card game) and that we normally get around 50-60 people signed up for. But due to the congregation and touching of the cards, we decided to not hold that one this year, unfortunately.”

Registration typically had opened May 15 but was pushed back to the second week of June due to uncertainties in the beginning. Even though the games will look a bit different this year, the original start date was not pushed back at all because of COVID-19.

The games are still on track to happen from August 6-9.

“It’s a great thing for our seniors, it helps provide motivation to stay active, be healthy, meet new friends,” said Brown. “A lot of friendships are made here, people come back year after year just so they can see their friends from other towns or counties all across the state.”

Brennan Merkle is a senior Sports Media and Communications major at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln who has a passion for the details and data analysis that coincides within the field of sports and the nonstop revolving discussion around it.