Sunday, June 19, 2011
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
by Tom Behrens
Harry Pepper, Jay Noll, James Vancil and John Zilberberg are a “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” All of these men are bowlers who participated in the singles bowling competition at Bellaire Lanes. What makes them extraordinary? All of them are at least 95 years old.
Eric Pierson of the US Bowling Congress in partnership with National Senior Games Association managed the bowling event.
“Approximately 300 bowlers are in the singles bowling and the number of participants increases every year,” Pierson said.
Harry Pepper, a 100-year-old Houston resident, the oldest of the four men, has an extensive athletic history. In his 70s he competed in decathlons. Later, he pulled a hamstring and stopped running.
At 80 he took up biking and competed at the Orlando, Baton Rouge and Syracuse National Senior Games. He stopped biking at 92 because he didn’t have any competition. Then he took up bowling and still bowls 2-3 times a week. He walks an hour every day.
Pepper won the gold in Friday’s bowling competition.
John Zilberberg, 97, from Highmore, S.D., has been involved in the Senior Games for 25 years at the state level and has gone to two Nationals—Louisville in 2007 and San Francisco in 2009. He earned two gold and two silver medals in 2009.He estimates his bowling average in the last year is 130, down from 160 three years ago. His highest three-game average is 600.
He has another six events that he will participate in at this year’s Nationals. He bowls mixed doubles and competes in shot put, discus, hammer throw, javelin and the 100-meter dash. His daughter-in-law, April Zilberberg, said he could only register for two events, bowling and track and field. He chose track and field because of the multiple opportunities within it.
Zilberberg is an active individual.
“John gets up at 6:00 a.m. every morning and plays golf,” April said.
Zilberberg even plays in the snow.
“I play in the snow, but not too much. It doesn’t work too well in the snow…hard to find the ball,” John said. He walks the entire 18 holes.
Zilberberg was inducted into the National Polled Herefords Association Hall of Fame in 1994.
James Vancil, 95, from Gulf Port, Miss., says his approach to knocking the pins down is to throw the ball straight at them without any curve in his delivery. He estimates he has an average of 158 in singles bowling. He tries to bowl four times a week. His highest game was 258.
“I bowled eight strikes, thrilled the heck out of me,” Vancil said.
Vancil will also participate in the 100-meter dash.
“For my age group I might be number one in that also,” Vancil said.
His unofficial time in practice sessions for the 100 is 25 seconds.
San Antonio bowler, Jay Knoll, 96 years old, bowls three times a week in a couple of leagues. He carries a 140 average and his highest game ever was 287. In 2004 he won gold medals in singles and mixed doubles in the Nationals at Louisville.
A League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Harry Pepper, Jay Noll, James Vancil and John Zilberberg, staying fit, active and still winning gold, silver and bronze medals in their super senior years.
Falling in love with track and field
by Susan Barr
The Texas native Scott Keller joined his high school track team for one reason — to get a girlfriend.
“I noticed all the girls were with the boys wearing letter jackets, so I decided to join the track team,” Keller said.
“They didn’t turn anyone down.”Keller stated that although he was “too slow” to compete, his track coach gave him the position of team manager so he could obtain his valuable letter jacket. “I received that letter jacket in 1977, but I did not see any increases in the girlfriend department,” Keller said. “It was worth it because I got to learn what track and field was.”
Keller said his two years as team manager in high school gave him the opportunity to fall in love with running, and he jogged regularly to relieve stressin college.
“I’ve been waiting until I got to 50 to compete in the Senior Games,” Keller laughed.
He qualified for the Senior Games in terms of times for the past few years, but was never old enough to play in them.
“The first meet I went to, I didn’t have a firing block or track shoes and they were taking pictures of everyone else looking so professional, and I thought, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’”
Keller swept every sprinting event in both the Arkansas and Oklahoma State qualifying competitions. In Houston, Keller competes in the 100, 200 and 400-meter runs.
He placed sixth in the finals of the 100-meter dash yesterday. He finished first in his heat of the 400 prelims Friday with a time of 58.58. The 200 prelims and 400 finals take place this morning.
“It’s an opportunity to compete in a sport I’ve never been able to compete in. After all these years, I am finally competitive, and I’m still getting better.”
Though the letter jacket never landed Keller a girlfriend, he is married and has two children.
“My wife is so tired of hearing about the senior Olympics,” Keller said. “My daughter? She loves it, she’s very encouraging. My son likes me to run because I am so much more mellow when I come back in.”
Keller said he can still fit into his high school letter jacket.