The YMCA of Long Island this week marked Active Older Adults Day with free events at its Patchogue and Bay Shore and other locations across Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The ultimate goal is for their older members is to get balanced, live healthy, and stay senior savvy, according to the YMCA.

Perhaps one exemplifies this better than Tom Lamendola, 68, a retired school teacher from Islip and the coordinator of senior volleyball at the Patchogue Family YMCA.

He can’t say enough about the physical, social and emotional importance of seniors getting out into their communities to keep connecting with people.

“When you’re in the house, you’ve got the TV, the videos and the comforts of home, but are you  connecting with people?” he asks. “Just because we’re in the late autumn of our years  doesn’t mean we have to crawl up into a ball.”

His prescription is always senior volleyball. Here’s what he had to say about the program in Patchogue:

Q: When are the games?

A: We’ll play six games twice a week, but typically once a week during the summer.

Q: Is it competitive?

A: It’s non-competitive but we keep score. We figure how could keeping score be a problem? It enhances the game. And that’s why all the screaming is going on (he laughs).

Q: Is experience necessary?

A: No. We get people who want to play but mention they’ve never played before. I say don’t worry about it. The key is to hit the ball up in the air. If you do that somebody will get to it and knock it toward the net.”

Q: What are the age ranges?

A: We’ll usually have someone in their mid-50s; they’re usually the best. But we had a lady who was 89 and she played with us. We were very protective of her. And we’re very protective of each other, too. The key is to have fun and nobody get hurt.

Q: Is it a great way to make friends?

A: It’s a great way to not only meet people, but also connect with people your age. We all have this commonality of being Baby Boomers; we’ve lived through the same stuff.

Q: Do you hang out off the court?

A: After the game is over we’ll sit for 10 minutes, social time. And every summer we have a pool party at my house. The first time we did it back in 2013. Beforehand my wife and I figured nobody would go into pool. But everybody brought their bathing suit! Everybody was in the pool!

Q: How about romance?

A: We’ve had people meet and fall in love on two occasions. It’s all very sweet. They’ve found their life mates at this age. They hold hands between games and we’ll say, ‘Guys, you have to get a room.’ That’s a nice thing that always comes from people getting together.

•••••

But since some of the players are up there in age, these newfound friends do have to deal with the struggle of losing members. 

Lamendola told us of a touching moment that happened recently.

First, he explained, that all the players at the pool party get volleyball medals to wear.

“We had a friend die, he was 76,” he said. “I went to his wake; I said hi to the widow and she pointed to a table and along with the pictures was the volleyball medal.

“That’s the stuff that effects you,” Lamendola said, getting choked up. 

“Yes, people get sick and can’t play or they’re gone,” he added, “but you make a new friend.”

Top: Tom Lamendola is all smiles with his volleyball in Patchogue. (Credit: Michael White)