November 26, 2014
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Nursing home, rehab residents say Wii bowling is right up their alley
Jessica A. Botelho
VIRTUAL VIDEO GAMERS: “The Rollers” of Pine Grove Health Center in Pascoag won second place. Team members are Harvey Howard, 75; Bob Johnson, 57; Gerry LaPlant, 73; and Bob Birtwell, 64. With them is Carol Felice, activities director.

Being wheelchair-bound didn’t stop residents of four Rhode Island nursing and rehabilitation centers owned and operated by Health Concepts from competing in a bowling championship-a Wii bowling championship, that is.

The bi-annual virtual competition marked the fourth for the facilities, as the fun began in the spring of 2010 in their 10 statewide locations. Nearly 85 people, including residents, family members and staff, attended the tournament, which took place on Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Chelo’s Banquet Room at 2225 Post Road.

Teams of four participated in the semi-final rounds. The top two, “The Morganeers” of Morgan Health Center in Johnston, and “The Rollers” of Pine Grove Health Center in Pascoag, moved on to the finals.

While “The Rollers” won last year, “The Morganeers,” were victorious this time and took home the coveted “Family Cup” trophy. It will remain at their facility until the next competition, unless, of course, they win again.

“All we need now is to fill the cup with beer,” said Guido Sullo, 68, who enjoyed the competitive edge of the event.

Teammate Kevin Leclerc, 44, agreed and said, “It was close but we went all the way.”

His roommate, Louis Marrocco, 54, the team captain, was especially pleased about their triumph because he will soon be moving out of the center and into his own apartment. Two years ago, he promised Activity Director Tammy Barone they would earn the prize.

“We got it for her,” he said. “Our team is very strong.”

But winning wasn’t the only thing that mattered to “The Morganeers,” as they view the game as an opportunity to socialize.

“I made a lot of new friends,” said Helen Antonelli, 79. “I didn’t like it in the beginning but once I started I became addicted.”

Barone summed it up nicely when she said, “Wii brought them together.”

Other residents were initially unsure of the Wii, as well. But it didn’t take long for them to be bowled over.

“It was tough at first but once you get used to it, it’s easy,” said silver medallist Gerry LaPlant, 73, of the Pine Grove Rollers. He was the high scorer of the day with a 255 and bowled seven consecutive strikes. “I like getting together with the guys and having a good time.”

Teammates Bob Birtwell, 64, thinks it’s a fun way to pass the time and Harvey Howard, 75, enjoys the excitement. Bob Johnson, 57, another member of “The Rollers,” believes it’s better than watching television or reading.

“I used to play Wii with my grandchildren so that’s how I learned about it,” he said. “I like to play Mario Cart, Donkey Kong Returns and a boxing game, too.”

Flora Nichols, 71, and Dot Graham, 75, of West Shore Health Center’s “Three Crazy Chicks and a Rooster,” won the first tournament, which was held at in the hallway of the first floor at Riverview Healthcare in Coventry. They agreed that virtual bowling is a kingpin sport.

“I dream about getting strikes,” said Nichols, while Graham said, “They had to show me how to use it but I figured I’d be a member.”

Susan Bettencourt, RN and Clinical Software Educator at Health Concepts, came up with the idea for the event and helps to maintain scores throughout the 10 to 12-week seasons. Ten facilities submitted their weekly numbers and the top eight moved to the quarterfinals.

From there, four teams went on to the semi-finals. In addition to “The Morganeers” and “The Rollers,” “The Waves” from the Westerly Health Center and “The Kingstown Strikers” from South Kingston Nursing and Rehabilitation in West Kingston competed before the championship round. The finals began after lunch.

“This is our largest one yet,” Bettencourt said of the event, which cost $2,000 and was funded by Health Concepts. “Some of the residents used to be on bowling leagues when they were younger and now they bowl almost everyday. We believe in it because it helps them get moving and creates camaraderie. Some facility directors call me and say, ‘You created monsters,’ because the residents want to play first thing in the morning.”

She said without the activity directors the event would not be what it is today. Coreen St. Jean, the activity director of Riverview Healthcare, attended the tournament and donated her DJ equipment for the day.

“It was a little difficult to get them rolling but once they started they practiced all the time,” said St. Jean. “They wear team shirts and the other residents encourage and support them.”

Bettencourt said she views it as a testament to nursing homes. She hopes it will erase the negative stigma associated with them.

“This is a great way to show the community how much fun we have,” she said.

Before the end of the event, “The Waves” were given bronze medals and additional awards were handed out, including one for the most improved team, “The Strikers,” as well as individual honors for Kay Crider, 65, Jane Mello, 66, from “The Waves;” Bonnie Anderson, 83, and Ernie Cabral, Aug. 1934 of South Kingston Nursing and Rehab; and Noel Simpson, 52, and Keith Patenaude, 61, of Elmwood Health Center in Providence.

As he was leaving, Johnson shared kind words for the champions. He said he wasn’t bitter about their win, but offered them a challenge.

“We’re getting the trophy back in the spring,” he said.


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