Lynn Milner peered down her cue, gave it a quick but gentle thrust and sent her puck sailing down the shuffleboard court for a perfect landing.
“What a block!” shouted Sherry Blount, partly lamenting her new-found predicament but impressed by Milner’s move nonetheless.
The lively shuffleboard game at Lake Junaluska Thursday morning was soon attracting attention from passersby on their morning walk. The odd green courts with puzzling white stripes are a mystery to most, and usually sit empty. But Haywood County Recreation hopes to change that by offering pick-up shuffleboard games twice a month.
“They are loving it,” said Betty Green, office assistant for Haywood County Recreation. “You are getting outside, getting a little exercise, plus it is a social thing.”
The same goes for a new pick-up croquet game at Allens Creek Park twice a month on Tuesdays, also a new offering by Haywood County Rec.
“It is great for seniors to get out and not be sitting around. Our motto is keep moving,” said Milner.
The beauty of croquet and shuffleboard is that they’re an everyman’s game.
“They are pick-up-and-play kind of sports,” said Ian Smith, county rec coordinator. “Croquet is essentially a backyard game.”
Neither require athletic prowess or a fitness pedigree.
“You might not have the physical ability to run track, but it doesn’t mean you can’t get out there and have fun,” Green said.
Since croquet and shuffleboard aren’t team sports either, all comers can feel welcome.
“It’s whoever shows up,” Green said. “Anyone can wander up and join in. You don’t have to be good at it.”
A testament to the anyone-can-do-this sport, Haywood County resident Ruth Elson brought home a bronze medal in shuffleboard from the national Senior Games in New Mexico this year. But ironically, she only played shuffleboard once a year.
“Senior games was the only time I played. And lo and behold, I won a medal,” Elson said.
And that got the county rec folks thinking: why not offer more opportunities to play year-round?
“One of the biggest responses we got after the Senior Games was that people only get to do it one time a year,” Smith said.
Ready to launch
The pick-up croquet and shuffleboard games are part of a larger initiative by Haywood County Recreation to find its niche in the larger recreation landscape.
Haywood Rec has long played second-fiddle to Waynesville Parks and Rec. Waynesville dominates the recreation scene by virtue of its facilities — an impressive portfolio of basketball courts, tennis courts, ball fields, gyms, playgrounds, greenways, a track, a skate park, disc golf course and rec center with an indoor pool.
Earlier this year, county leaders debated whether to throw in the towel on their own recreation department and just join forces with Waynesville. Rather than dissolve the county rec program, however, they instead set out to find a new identity and direction following the departure of the long-time director.
A primary focus will be outdoor recreation, something commissioners felt had untapped potential.
“We have a beautiful county and want to showcase that,” Smith said.
In that vein, county rec hosted a series of introductory fly-fishing clinics this month — three in all — that culminated in a fly-fishing outing along the Pigeon River.
“That was the first undertaking as part of the initiative to branch out into more outdoor activities,” Smith said. “It was a huge hit and very successful.”
Smith is exploring how to offer more outdoor programming, like mountain biking and kayaking.
As for the croquet and shuffleboard games, the idea for those had already been in the pipeline prior to the machinations over the rec department’s future direction.
“They were in the cards already as a response to the surveys we received after the Senior Games,” Smith said. “It became obvious there was a demand.”
Those who have been showing up for the shuffleboard games said they were appreciative of the county rec department organizing the play sessions.
Croquet and shuffleboard aren’t team sports per se, so technically, it’s possible to play on your own. But it’s just not the same when you can’t give another player’s ball a whack once in a while in croquet, or knock another player’s puck off their spot in shuffleboard
“For it to be fun, you definitely need another person to play against,” Smith said. “You can go out there and practice your technique, but the game doesn’t start getting there until you have another person to play against.”