When resident Dick Heimlich suggested forming a chair volleyball group shortly after his 2020 move to Windsor Run, an Erickson Senior Living community in Matthews, N.C., he had no idea how quickly the sport would become one of the campus' most popular activities.
"I'm amazed at the response," says Dick. "We hold games on Tuesday and Friday. Neighbors tell me that the games are the highlight of their week. Many players never miss a game, and it's rare for fewer than 20 people to show up to play. We also have loyal spectators. Everyone is having a great time."
Resident Claire Maret agrees. "Chair volleyball is pure fun and makes me feel like a kid again," she says. "I enjoy meeting new people, bonding with the team, and all the laughter."
Spreading their enthusiasm for friendly competition, players recently invited Windsor Run staff members to join in on the fun at a "staff versus residents" chair volleyball tournament.
"We love listening to the joy and laughter that residents share while playing chair volleyball," says Executive Assistant Sarah Gibson. "The energy coming from the games radiates through the clubhouse. I knew our staff would enjoy being part of the fun. Playing together in the tournament provided a unique opportunity for staff and residents to interact, beyond our day-to-day encounters."
An idea springs up
Earlier in the year, Dick approached members of the chair volleyball group with the idea of setting aside a morning for staff members to play with residents.
"They were in favor of the idea," he says. "I met with Sarah and [Resident Life Coordinator] Becky Dinello. From our discussion came the idea to run a two-week tournament, coinciding with the Winter Olympics."
Six teams were then formed - three resident and three staff teams, all of whom faced each other over the course of the tournament.
"Gibson really got into the spirit," says Dick. "By the time she was done, she had more than 30 staff members signed up to play."
"I organized the teams in such a way that allowed for staff members who don't usually work together to play on the same teams," says Gibson. "It was fun to watch the teams develop and grow."
On the first day of the highly anticipated tournament, resident and team member Dick Rasbach played John Williams' "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" on this trumpet as the players processed onto the "court."
"The best part of chair volleyball is the laughter that goes on during the games," says Rasbach, who'd never played before moving to Windsor Run. "We laugh because nobody really knows where the ball is going - bouncing off heads, chairs, the net."
He adds, "My favorite part of the tournament was the interaction and friendly 'trash talk' between the staff and residents. Our staff is always very kind, but it was great to interact with them and have fun in a different manner."
Laughter and fun
Windsor Run Executive Director George Comfort and Assistant Executive Director Bo Lundh joined their fellow staff members for the games.
"What I enjoyed the most about the chair volleyball tournament was the laughter, good-natured competitiveness, and opportunity to continue to strengthen the bond between all of the team members and residents," says Comfort.
Once each resident team played each staff team, the top four teams advanced to the championship round. The two teams that did not advance played each other in a consolation game. The championship game pitted a resident team against a staff team.
"The residents got off to an early lead," says Heimlich. "Then, all of the sudden, the staff team got hot and came back to win the game."
Following the tournament, staff members wanted to identify additional ways to enjoy chair volleyball with the residents.
"Together, we devised a plan where staff will play with the residents once a month," says Gibson. "Many staff members told me that the chair volleyball tournament was the most fun that they've had at work - and we have a lot of fun here as a staff, so that's really saying something!"
During these games, staff members are integrated into the resident teams. "It's shifted - we are all one big family now," says Heimlich.
In addition to the monthly staff-and-resident games, plans are currently underway for a second tournament later in the year.
"The sense of community between residents and staff is palpable," says Gibson. "Enjoying opportunities like the chair volleyball games only strengthens these bonds."
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