AURORA | The 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro may be just about wrapped up, but there’s a dash of Brazilian culture lingering in east Denver.
In the course of just about two months, a sleepy, quixotic sport has come to elicit a roomful of smiles, firing muscles and a constant chorus of chuckles.
Billed as a combination of foosball and soccer, “Snoozeball” has come to be the favorite sport of the city’s Morning Star Adult Day Care participants.
And it’s just as silly as it sounds.
During a recent matchup, participants used their hands, feet and canes to coax a multi-colored Wilson volleyball through two goals that were defended by smiling Morning Star staff members. Arranged back-to-back in three rows of three, the players batted the red, white and blue sphere among one another, tossing playful barbs throughout the outing.
Shouts of “pass it here,” and feeble flails of various pieces of walking equipment were ubiquitous during the roughly half hour-long game.
The elderly-friendly activity was born at the Morning Star program about a month ago, after Emily Turner, an activity assistant with the city’s Parks, Recreation and Open Space department, tweaked a similar concept she had learned while attending and leading youth outings with her church, Bethel Baptist Church in Aurora.
“I decided the human foosball idea would allow them to sit down and stay in the same position, but still have the same idea while using the soccer ball,” Turner said. “And they liked it.”
Turner adapted the game to honor the monthly, geographic theme of “Brazil” at Morning Star in August.
Morning Star participants, who range in age from 55 to mid-90s, have played “Snoozeball” several times since Turner rolled out the concept — occasionally for as many as two hours straight.
Officially started by a community task force in the spring of 1989, the Morning Star Adult Day Program now enrolls about 40 participants and serves about 16 people each day, according to city officials. On top of providing entertainment and some health care services for local adults over the age of 55, the program aims to keep people with memory loss issues out of long-term care facilities, as well as provide a respite for individual home-care providers. All of the attendees still live with relatives at home and only attend the program on weekdays.
“Aging in place is really popular right now and no one wants to go into an institution,” said Lori Sanchez, center supervisor for Morning Star, which is located in the city’s Lowry Intergenerational Center. “We’ve added more (healthcare services) as another benefit to our families because if they didn’t have that, they might already be in a nursing home.”
Center staff members help keep tabs on participants’ health by monitoring their memory and providing regular check-ups regarding weight and blood pressure. About 70 percent of program participants suffer some sort of cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s, according to Sanchez. However, several Adult Day Program participants have been attending activities since the program moved from north Aurora to Denver in 2000.
“I have been here for 12 years, and there are some people who have been here longer than me,” Sanchez said.
The vast majority of participants have their daily fees for the program — $62 for a full day or $45 for a half-day — subsidized by Medicaid or the Department of Veterans Affairs. Not technically a part of the city budget, Morning Star operates solely off participant fees and private donations, according to Sanchez.
Sanchez added that “Snoozeball” has provided a novel way for Morning Star patrons to get some much-needed physical — and mental — exercise. She said the game has even been popular among participants who often aren’t interested in many other activities.
“They’re doing exercise without even realizing it because they’re having fun,” Sanchez said. “So the whole thing became a huge, popular game with them, and you see people who don’t always actively engage with some of the groups actually participate in this group. The engagement level has increased by doing this.”
Donald Hammond, a Morning Star participant for the past two years, has emerged as somewhat of a “Snoozeball” star, netting the majority of points for Team II during a recent Monday morning match. Hammond, who moved to Aurora about 11 years ago from his native Chicago, said that he enjoys the game’s mobile nature.
“It’s a lot of fun and it’ll keep you alert,” the retired Campbell Soup Company worker said. “My strategy is to fake like you’re going one way and go the other.”
Hammond, 76, lives off South Havana Street with his sister and brother-in-law.
For the Morning Star attendees who are typically less active than Hammond, Turner said “Snoozeball” has appeared to ignite some long-dormant physical tendencies.
“You sit them there, they’re right in the middle of it and everyone’s cheering around them, so when the ball comes toward them, I think instinct takes over,” she said. “They just get into it.”
Sanchez echoed Turner’s thoughts on the intrinsic nature of playing with a ball — regardless of age.
“Sometimes they need a little prompting from the staff to, you know, kick it, but every one knows how,” she said.
“You don’t ever lose that ability to hit a ball.”