• Scarlett Bauman, Fundraising and Marketing Manager

That's A Strike!

Air Force Enlisted Village teams are national Wii bowling champs

by Jim Thomson, Northwest Florida Daily News

SHALIMAR — It's easy to find the virtual bowling competitors at the Air Force Enlisted Village. Just go to the Bob Hope Village Community Center and head for the sounds of excitement and cheering.

"You can hear them all the way to the back offices," smiled Monica Gonzales, the wellness coordinator at AFEV.

The AFEV provides housing for surviving spouses of retired enlisted Air Force, Air National Guard or Air Force Reserve personnel, and other people with military connections.

But it's not just locally that the AFEV's virtual bowlers, who use the Nintendo Wii video gaming system to garner strikes and spares, are making noise. They have become a force to be reckoned with in the National Senior League, a loose affiliation of senior-living facilities across the country that compete in Wii bowling.

For the just-concluded bowling season, the virtual bowlers at AFEV — organized into teams with names like the Jet Setters and the Air Force Enlisted Village People — racked up an impressive slate of awards.

"The league, especially this year, was the most we've ever won," said Gonzales.

No slouch herself, Gonzales was recognized in a Monday ceremony at the Bob Hope Village Community Center as the NSL's Coach of the Year.

Other awards presented at the AFEV ceremony, attended by National Senior League founder Dennis Berkholtz, were national champion honors in the Super Elite Division, which went to the Jet Setters; in the Elite 1 Division, which went to the Ten Pins; and the Elite 2 Division, which went to the AFEV 4 Rollers.

Those three top finishes came amid competition across eight divisions comprising 88 teams.

And the winning didn't stop there. The 3 Geese and a Gander team, and the Village People, each captured fall conference championships.

"They're very good," Berkholtz said of the AFEV's Wii bowling teams. He also took a moment during the awards ceremony to praise all of the AFEV's Wii bowling participants, telling them, "You guys have really added a lot to the league."

Berkholtz also had high praise for Gonzales.

"A lot of the success of the league depends on people like Monica," he said.

Gonzales got the AFEV teams rolling a few years ago, after a resident approached her about getting the community involved with the NSL.

The NSL itself is in its 11th year. Teams at the participating communities can bowl their NSL games whenever they like, and report their scores on the honor system to Berkholtz, who compiles the records and computes team standings. There are two 10-week bowling seasons each year, he said.

The league had its genesis in a 2006 visit that Berkholtz made to the senior-living community in Central Florida where his parents lived.

"They had nothing to do," he said, "and I thought, 'They could Wii bowl quite easily.'"

Wii bowling doesn't require the full space of a regular bowling alley, and players don't have to contend with the weight of a bowling ball. Instead, they use a device that looks a little bit like a TV remote — although there are ball-shaped devices available, too — to roll a virtual ball that makes its way down a virtual alley to the pins.

The Wii game is widely accessible, and even can be played in a sitting position.

That's one reason that Gail Nelson, one of the AFEV's top bowlers, likes the virtual game.

"There's so many ways to do it," he said. "Everybody does it different."

Nelson is one of the league's more casual bowlers. He reckons that the last time he picked up an actual bowling ball was 1959 — or, he said, "since I hit my first good golf shot."

Another top AFEV bowler, Doug Walker, has a simpler reason for liking the Wii version of the game.

"The ball ain't as heavy," he said as he and Nelson munched on a fried chicken and pizza dinner that preceded the awards ceremony. Regardless, he says he's hooked on the Wii bowling. "I'm going to keep doing it," he said.

Also planning to keep participating is 94-year-old Helen Seever, who missed bowling a perfect 300 game in the just-completed season by just one point, rolling a 299.

"This coming year, I'm going to have a 300 game," she said, a smile barely concealing her obviously dogged determination to meet that goal.

But working to rack up high scores isn't necessarily the primary benefit of Wii bowling for AFEV residents, according to Gonzales. Friendships are made as new bowlers come into the league and as longtime bowlers help those new bowlers get the hang of the game, she said.

"It's not as much physical as it is social, for their wellness," she said. "It's very social ... (and) it gives them a purpose to get out."

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