From the outside, they looked like any other assortment of little old ladies. Little did I know I was stepping into the lion's den.
From the outside, they looked like any other assortment of little old ladies.
Moments after I walked into the Sunshine Club at Franklin's Senior Center, Lena Vitti filled me in on the rules: "You have to smile to come in the door."
Little did I know I was stepping into the lion's den.
I'd gone to Franklin to take on Vitti and a handful of other seniors in a game of what's become the hottest must-have item at area senior centers - Wii bowling.
Sure, I was a Wii newbie - the closest I'd come to using the video game system was a display at Best Buy, but being in my early 30s, and part of the generation that grew up with video games, I went in feeling pretty confident.
Vitti and other members of the Sunshine Club, though, were ready for me, and they had their game faces on.
The club earlier this month held a bowling tournament - timed to coincide with the Olympics - using the console, and had several players roll scores of well over 100, program coordinator Patty O'Donnell said.
"Once you get the knack of pressing two buttons at the same time, it's as if you're bowling," O'Donnell said.
For seniors like Vitti, the illusion is only part of the fun.
The game, which requires players to stand in front of the TV and sweep their arms forward as if bowling, offers a chance for fun, low-impact activity, and - maybe most importantly - the chance for social interaction.
During our game, seniors cheered each other on as players scored spares and broke out in applause for the game's lone strike, scored, unfortunately for me, by Vitti.
It's those sort of benefits that have senior centers throughout MetroWest scrambling to get their hands on what's already one of the hottest electronic items for kids.
At the Bellingham Senior Center, director Laura DeMattia earlier this summer was able to get a Wii on loan from one of the town's selectmen, but the game console proved too popular. "We went ahead and purchased one," she said.
"I would say the response has been very positive," she said. While the social and recreational aspects of the games have struck a chord among senior center users, DeMattia believes many seniors also just want to stay in the loop when it comes to technology.
"I honestly think moreso the driving force behind this is what people see on TV and what they experience with their families," she said. "People who know their grandkids are using this, they seem to be very intrigued and want to compete on an even playing field. (This way) they can do it with their peers, then take it back home and show 'em how it's done."
While a handful of senior centers in the region already have a Wii system, most others fall into another category: those which don't have one, but - like most 12 year olds - desperately want one.
"We do not have one yet, but we desperately want one," said Moira Munns of the Council on Aging in Natick.
Having a Wii at the center, she said, would open the possibility of running inter-generational programs, allowing seniors to compete with their grandchildren.
"I have heard of other councils on aging that have leagues," she said. "I think it would be a lot of fun. If it's part of a balanced program of activity...I can see where it would be beneficial in some ways."
For some, like Joanne Duffy, director of the Ashland Senior Center, the challenge isn't in the game, it's in finding one and making sure she can afford it.
"They're hard to get," she said. "Every time (we) find out, we run out to buy it, but we don't have the budget for it."
At a time when municipal budgets are stretched thin, even $250 for the Wii sports games package can be tough to come up with.
"We are going to have one, ASAP," vowed Amy Loveless, executive director of the Marlborough Council on Aging. "It's on our short list of new fitness activities.
"Two years ago, we had people bowling in our main room, and we had bocce outside, but for some people it was too physical. I think (the Wii) is going to be a catalyst for, perhaps, participating more in physical activity, more social activity and I think it's going to be good for the memory."
Earlier this year, Hopkinton Senior Center officials applied for a grant to get a Wii, but were turned down.
"We would like one, but it's just one of those things that just has to kind of come our way. We don't have the budget for it," said Assistant Director Sally Almy.
"It would be something people could do at any time - it would not need a special class," she said. "It's not something seniors are apt to have in their homes. I think the senior center is a good place for one."
Milford Senior Center Director Ruth Anne Bleakney was able to find a Wii, but has so far resisted setting up the video game console because the center doesn't have a flat-screen TV.
"From everybody I've talked to, they're a lot of fun," she said, adding that the center also invested in a "Dancing with the Stars" game. "A lot of rehabilitation places are using them to increase range of motion. We have a group here that's ready to use it. I keep telling them, 'It's coming, it's coming."'
For seniors like Vitti, the benefits are incalculable.
"It's very nice," she said between frames of our bowling match. "I love it. We're having fun, it's really fun. It's wonderful."
And in the end, it's harder than it looks, because while I lose, 110 to 104, I can take solace in the fact that I held my own.
Next time, I'll be ready.
MetroWest Daily News writer Peter Reuell can be reached at 508-626-4428 or email@example.com.