Like a lot of outsized numbers that almost seem commonplace around Florida’s Friendliest Hometown, The Villages’ medal haul from this month’s National Senior Games requires a dose of scale. The raw numbers: 147 medals, 55 of them gold, across 16 sports contested during the just-completed festival in Fort Lauderdale.
“That’s a fair number of medals,” said Dale Charrette, president of the Villages Aquatic Swim Team, who contributed a pair of bronze to the ledger. And now the perspective: If one were to carve those 147 medals out of Florida’s NSG-dominant medal count and classify The Villages as its own microstate, it would stand 12th in the medal table.
Forgive Marc Riker for chuckling.
“That’s just awesome,” said Riker, CEO of the National Senior Games Association, when presented with the numerical nuggets.
“The Villages is the largest of all contingents that we see at the Games. Maybe we should have them create their own entity. Those are really cool stats you can put out there.”
With three more medals, The Villages would have pulled alongside New York in the No. 11 slot. The 55 gold medals would leave The Villages 14th, one behind Wisconsin.
Of course, it helps when the host city is pretty much a 300-mile straight shot down Florida’s Turnpike. Then again, it merely reinforces trends that were in place before NSG hierarchy awarded the 2021 Games to the Sunshine State (later pushed into 2022 by the pandemic).
Athletes from The Villages actually collected a few more medals when the 2017 Games were contested in Alabama — 154, to be exact. The number dropped to 66 for the 2019 edition, with travel a playing a bigger role for a Games held in New Mexico.
“You’re never confident when you get to these national Games,” said sprinter Ray Jancso, of the Village of Caroline, who made his mark by sweeping the 50, 100 and 200 events in the men’s 80-84 age group. “You don’t know who’s going to show up.”
It was the swan song for track teammate Tiny Cazel, the Village Santiago dynamo who capped a two-decade National Senior Games career with five gold medals and two pending USA Track & Field Masters records.
Cazel shattered the women’s 85-89 discus standard with a throw of 17.71 meters (58 feet, 1 inch). Two days later, she broke the long jump mark with a leap of 2.41 meters (7 feet, 10 3/4 inches).
“I don’t think I could have done any better,” said Cazel, who later added softball gold to bring her career tally to 30 gold medals.
Cazel, who let it be known in December that nationals would be her final track meet, also was selected to lead the competitors in the athletes’ oath at the Celebration of Athletes.
As a team, The Villages’ biggest haul came from the pool, where VAST swimmers picked up 39 medals, including 12 golds.
“We had a group of highly motivated swimmers that spanned across all age groups, male and female,” Charrette said. “Those results are great for our individual swimmers, as well as the team. We are very proud of our results.”
Andy Miller, Sarah Shire and Gordon Ralph each claimed three gold medals, with Shire pulling off a breaststroke sweep at 50, 100 and 200 meters in the women’s 80-84 division.
Miller and Ralph, meantime, went home with six medals apiece. Ralph added three silvers in the men’s 90-94 division, while Miller’s final count was three golds and three bronze.
“People kept thinking I was going up to accept my medals too soon,” quipped Miller, who moved up to the 80-84 division this year.
The meet also had special significance for Miller to compete at nationals alongside daughter Deb Halterman, of the Village of DeLuna. Halterman collected three silvers and a bronze in the women’s 50-54 category in her NSG debut.
The swimming performance also came despite an auspicious start, when the first session at the Central Park Aquatic Complex was delayed more than four hours with chemical problems in the competition pool. Several events had to be pushed into the following day.
“We just said, ‘Let’s swim great anyway,’” Charrette said.
For comparison purposes, track and field produced The Villages’ second-highest medal total with 31, followed by 29 medals from pickleball.
Track and field ace Roger Vergin, of the Village of Pennecamp, came away with the biggest individual medal haul with four golds, four silvers and a bronze.
A USATF Masters decathlon champion several times over, Vergin won gold in all four jumps he entered despite dealing with a herniated disc that he aggravated in final training before the Games.
“I’ve never had to deal with that kind of misery before, so I’m very pleased,” Vergin said.
Deb Harrison, of the Village of Briar Meadow, picked up four golds in Fort Lauderdale with a paddle in her hand — a sweep of women’s 70-74 pickleball titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, plus doubles gold in table tennis alongside Marilyn Cates.
Cheng Hung, of the Village of Chatham, pulled off something similar when he won singles titles in the men’s 85-89 division in both tennis and pickleball.
Thanks to the delay in holding the Fort Lauderdale festival, it’s now just 14 months until athletes gather again for the 2023 Games in Pittsburgh.
“I think once you start doing this, you want to keep doing it,” said Kathy Rocchio, a Hacienda Mission Hills archer who won gold in her NSG debut. “You get to see people from all over the country, and I just enjoyed being in that community.”
Managing editor Jeff Shain can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5283, or firstname.lastname@example.org.