Bend to boomers: Let the games begin

City is expected to host the Oregon Senior Games starting in 2014

By Rachael Rees / The Bulletin

Published: February 20. 2013

Pickleball, being played by here in July by one of the founding members of the Bend Pickleball Club, could be an event in the Oregon Senior Games, which are expected to be held in Bend in 2014. The National Senior Games, as well as those in California and Washington, feature the event.

Starting in June 2014, Bend is expected to become the home of the Oregon Senior Games, a 14-sport event that could draw thousands of athletes ages 50 and older, Visit Bend announced Tuesday.

“Baby boomers are … starting to retire, and they’re largely an athletic bunch,” said Kevney Dugan, director of sales and sports development for Visit Bend, the city’s tourism agency. They “have disposable income; they’re willing to travel (and) they tend to be pretty competitive. So, (putting on) sports events is a way to attract them.”

The National Senior Games Association, which acts as a governing organization, selected Bend to host the Oregon games during its annual meeting last week.

Efforts to bring the Oregon Senior Games to Bend have been under way since 2009, but until last week, Oregon was one of two states without senior games sanctioned by the national association, according to Visit Bend.

The Oregon Amateur Sports Foundation, which organizes the annual State Games of Oregon, previously hosted the Oregon Senior Games, but dropped it because of the cost, said Kerry Duffy, president and CEO of the foundation.

Restarting the senior games in Bend will mean a new role for Visit Bend: producing the event.

The agency was hesitant to take charge and originally hoped another organization would run it.

But “at the end of the day, we saw too much value in what this event could do to not just run with it,” Dugan said, noting the possible economic benefits of attracting active seniors to the region.

“This group of people could then turn into second-home owners or retire here. It’s just a great opportunity to, again, introduce a new set of people.”

Dugan said the immediate benefit will be the annual economic impact to the city and region. While some states may select a different city every year to host the games, Oregon’s will remain in Bend because of Visit Bend’s involvement.

The agency expects to draw 500 participants for Oregon’s first senior games, scheduled for June 2014, and anticipates attendance will grow each year. Established senior games in Washington and California attract between 2,000 and 2,500 athletes a year, Dugan  said.

And if the Oregon games become successful, Central Oregon could even host the nationals, which typically draws more than 10,000 athletes.

“You’re talking about a significant influx of seniors,” Dugan said, adding that seniors generally have more free time. “They don’t just come and compete and leave. They could stick around and do the awards presentations, do more here while they’re here and extend their vacations.”

Dugan said he envisions a two-week competition with local senior athletes helping stage seven different sporting tournaments each weekend at different venues in Bend.

From a tourism perspective, Doug La Placa, CEO and president of Visit Bend, said he’d rather hold the games in October. But Dugan said he tried to pick a date that would not conflict with competitions in neighboring states.

Dugan said Visit Bend does not intend to make money by producing the senior games.

“What we’re trying to do is drive tourism and drive traffic to local businesses,” he said. “So if we can make this a break even, that’s a win.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7818,

rrees@bendbulletin.com

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