Social, Athletic Events Compete For Seniors' Attention

July 07, 1991|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff writer

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Luck did not shine on Millie Steckman last Sunday -- mostly because the sun did not shine on the tennis courts here early in the morning.

A two-hour rain delay on the third day of tennis competition at the U.S. National Senior Sports Classic kept the Bel Air resident on the court until nearly 7 p.m., about three hours longer than expected.She and her husband, Bud Steckman, had plans to attend a 1920s-stylefair at 6 p.m.

"Well, I guess, at least we'll get there," she said. And they did-- after she finished two sets of doubles.

For many of the seniorathletes competing here last week, the attraction of a variety of scheduled social events rivaled the athletic competition.

"We get injust about everything that comes along if we can," said Bud, 67. "Weenjoy people, period. And we really get to know a lot of people, Millie especially. She never meets a stranger. She's just that kind."

Even after long days of tennis, the Steckmans still had plenty of energy for the night life. They closed out the first day of competitionJune 28 by finishing fifth in a jitterbug contest. The next night, they mingled at the athletes' picnic and marched in the opening ceremonies at the Carrier Dome on the campus of Syracuse University.

Thecouple kept up that kind of schedule all week. Their accommodations in a Syracuse University dorm gave them extra chances to socialize.

But even the Steckmans couldn't fit everything into their busy schedule. The U.S. Senior National Sports Organization planned dozens of outside events, from tours of Syracuse and cruises on Onondaga Lake to a night at the theater and the senior follies, where the athletes themselves took the stage.

The Steckmans, veterans of both previousnational senior games, didn't perform in the follies, but like all the athletes here, they were in the spotlight for the opening ceremonies. All of Maryland's athletes wore red shorts or slacks with white shirts and gold hats as they paraded at the Carrier Dome.

The Olympic-style event came complete with torch lighting, the athletes' oath and a keynote speaker -- Bob Cousy, the former Boston Celtics superstar.

Cousy, now 62, told fellow seniors that $30,000 was the most money he made in a single year in the NBA. The man who helped the Celtics win seven straight NBA titles remarked that some have told him hewas born too soon. But Cousy disagreed, citing the abundance of egotists and braggarts that, he said, are dragging down professional sports today.

"I was born at exactly the right time, and I wouldn't trade my career for all the million-dollar contracts in the world," said Cousy. "Hopefully, our world is growing wiser with age."

Insteadof pumping in points for the Celtics, Cousy said he now plays 18 holes of golf in the morning and three or four competitive sets of tennis in the afternoon. He did, however, confess to a short nap in between.

In addition, Cousy also urged the senior athletes to volunteer their services back home. But he needn't have bothered to mention that to the Steckmans, who, like many other seniors here, are volunteers.

Since they spend seven months of the year at a winter home in Florida and split the rest of their time between Bel Air and Gettysburg, the Steckmans volunteer all over. Last year, they were nominated tothe Florida Seniors Hall of Fame after putting in 3,000 hours at theVeterans Administration Hospital in St. Petersburg.

They also volunteer at Prospect Mill Elementary School, where grandson Matthew Muir was a first-grader last year, and at St. Matthew's School, where granddaughter Katie was a preschooler. They are also involved in extensive health studies at both the National Institutes of Health and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

When they're not volunteering, the Steckmans are just about always playing tennis or golf. Bud, ranked 15th in the Middle Atlantic Tennis Association in his age group, won a silver medal and bronze medal at the last senior games in St. Louis.

Millie qualified for the national games by winning a bronze at the Maryland Senior Olympics last October, but her husband qualified in Florida. Because so many seniors from the north spend the winter in Florida, the games in that state are open to anyone.

Neither of the Steckmanstook home a medal from this year's games, although both reached the third round of the singles competition.

But, like other seniors here at the events, medals are not the priority.

"If you keep playing, you don't get a chance to see anyone else play," said Millie. "A lot of our friends from Florida came up. We really like to come out and be cheerleaders for them."

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