COLUMBIA - Lyle Pfaff can't muster the strength to shoot a basketball overhand anymore. That's what 77 years of life will do. Pfaff's hands are swollen from arthritis, making it difficult for him to handle the ball. That's what 70 years of working on the farm, milking cows, will do. So Pfaff adapts, shooting underhand and almost never dribbling the ball. Pfaff is more than happy to make those adjustments. That's what a love of sports will do.
Pfaff's friend, Howard Dewell hasn't had to resort to the underhand shot just yet, but at 86, competing is no small task. Dewell, a longtime coach at LaGrange College in Hannibal, who now lives in Qunicy, Ill., joined Pfaff in Saturday's basketball skills challenge at the Show-Me State Games.
The competition, which includes a 3-point shooting section and a free-throw shooting contest, was divided into age brackets. Pfaff and Dewell were the only two competitors in their age groups. Another day, another gold medal.
Pfaff and Dewell travel the Midwest, going from state game to state game. Pfaff and Dewell estimate they meet up at 10 different games a year. Their age hasn't slowed them down, Pfaff and Dewell are as eager as ever to compete.
Pfaff has been competing in senior games around the country since 1992. In that time Pfaff says he has won more than 1,100 medals, all of them displayed in his basement in Leonardville, 25 miles northwest of Manhattan, Kan. This summer alone, Pfaff has won 51 medals.
"I average 15 medals per senior game," Pfaff said. "In Kearney, Nebraska, I won 18. I'm still just as able as I ever was."
Dewell doesn't keep track of the metals he has amassed in his 31 years of competition. For him, it's all about the relationships he makes along the way.
Pfaff says he and Dewell met six years ago in St. Joseph. Dewell says they met 15 years ago at the Iowa Senior Olympics.
"I used to run around with a crew and Lyle showed up one day," Dewell said jokingly as both men chuckled. "He's pretty quiet, so we didn't notice he was around for another few years."
Sports have been bookends to Pfaff's life. His father died when he was 6 years old. Pfaff would tag along with his three older brothers when they would play sports. Eventually, he was able to join in.
Pfaff lettered in football, basketball and track every year as a high school athlete from 1947 to 1950. That athleticism has carried into his retirement. In Leonardville, Pfaff practices at nearby Riley County High School, where he works on his shot in the gym, and outside perfects his technique in one of his favorite competitions, the high jump.
After high school, Pfaff went back and worked on the family farm, and in 1965 he joined the nearby Kansas State agricultural school. He retired in 1977, but it took him 25 years to get back to playing competitive sports.
"A friend of mine convinced me to join the softball team at the senior games they had in the park in Leonardville," Pfaff said. "They still want to to play softball to this day."
A yellow mesh hat with the flying corn logo of the DeKalb farming company contrasts with Pfaff's blue sleeveless shirt and running shorts. Dewell, on the other hand, wears khaki shorts and a polo shirt.
Dewell has competed in all 25 Show-Me State Games. He is running in the track competitions and compete in all the field competitions at the Show-Me State games this weekend.
"I don't practice or anything," Dewell said. "I don't need it. I'm the only guy competing anyway."
But not even Dewell's supreme confidence could overtake a 92 year-old former national champion in tennis in June's Iowa Senior Olympics.
"They brought in the ringer for me," Dewell said.
Dewell was convinced to start competing in senior games by those he coached at Hannibal-LaGrange College.
"I was 55, and we had a team reunion, and they said, 'You have to get into the senior games with us,'" Dewell said.
He has never looked back.
In the free-throw shooting competition, Pfaff made 16 of the allotted 25 attempts with the underhand shot. On the other side of the court, Dewell was shooting his free throws. When they meet at half court afterward, they compare scores.
"Sixteen, that's pretty good," Dewell says to Pfaff. "But it sure doesn't beat 26."
Both men chuckle. It isn't about the score for either Dewell or Pfaff.
"I hope to make it to the senior games until I'm 100," Dewell said. "The camaraderie we have here, it's worth a million dollars."