COLUMBIA — Pickleball might be growing in Columbia, but when it comes to the Missouri State Senior Games, it's already a major sport.
A preliminary count of 120 participants are expected to compete in pickleball, one of the largest in the competition.
This year marks the 20th year of the Senior Games. Every contest has been held in Columbia.
"Columbia has been a great host for the Senior Games," said Emily Lorenz, the media coordinator for the event. "It just shows what a good fit Columbia is for an event like this."
This year's competition, which will be held June 19 through June 22, will feature 21 different sports over four days, starting on Thursday with the preliminary rounds for pickleball, according to an email from Lorenz. Missouri, Columbia Public Schools and many Columbia parks — including Albert-Oakland Park, where pickleball is played — will all host events.
The Columbia games will also give competitors in different sports, including pickleball, a chance to compete in the 2015 National Senior Games, which will be in Minneapolis, St. Paul and Bloomington, Minn..
National qualifying years, like this one, happen every other year. In 2012, the last national-qualifying year, the Senior Games had 1,661 participants. In 2013, there were 1,455 competitors. Because many of the sign-ups happen on the day of the games, participant numbers for 2014 won't be known until after this year's competition.
On Friday, a banquet will be held at Peachtree Catering and Banquet to kick off the competition. Jane Kaiser, a participant in the games for 14 years, will be honored by the National Senior Games Association at the banquet.
Kaiser, 65, a St. Louis nurse, will be receiving a Personal Best Award and, according to the gaming association, is an "example of the benefits one can derive from exercise, nutrition and preventative health practices throughout life."
"I understand the need to be healthy — not just thin or skinny, just healthy overall," Kaiser said. "It's an important aspect that needs to get across. You don't need to be thin; you need to be healthy."
She will be competing in a number of events at the games and says she usually competes in almost every track and field and swimming events.
"(The games) are giving me a reason to be healthy," Kaiser said. "I get to try to do the shot put, the javelin, run a race, a variety of things. I like the variety the senior games offers."
Supervising editor is Sean Morrison.