PORT CHARLOTTE — You could slice the tension in the air with a well-timed serve of a ping pong ball.

Thursday morning, table tennis players as old as 90, and as young as 55 were slapping balls back and forth with great intensity. Regardless of their age, they all had two things in common: They loved the sport, and they were serious about their game.

Twenty-six individuals gathered in the Harold Avenue Recreation Center gymnasium in Port Charlotte for the Table Tennis competition of the “Fit for Life” Senior Games.

Many of the players compete in a local table tennis league, have participated in the Senior Games in Sarasota County, or in the Senior Games in Charlotte County in previous years.

Gary Kennedy, 76, decided to compete in the individual competition, because of his love for the game. He also plays in a local group.

Thursday he competed in the doubles competition. He didn’t know his partner beforehand, but “he asked me to hit with him,” he said.

Quina Popel, 73, decided not to compete in the individual match, and instead competed in mixed doubles. Here, she said, the teams are pretty evenly matched.

Popel has been playing table tennis regularly since 2008. She is currently a part of the Port Charlotte Harold Community Center Table Tennis Club.

Researchers have said that table tennis can slow the effects of Alzheimer’s and dementia, because multiple parts of the brain are working at once.

Popel said you have to concentrate on the movement of the ball, your eyes are constantly focused, and you have to make split-second decisions during a match.

“This is what keeps me going,” she said, “Sport is good. It keeps you young.”

For those interested in participating in one of the bowling competitions, sign-ups are open until today. The individual competition will take place March 23 at Treasure Lanes in Port Charlotte. There will be a doubles and mixed doubles competition March 24.

Registration for pickleball is open until March 16. The competition will take place March 30 and 31 at South County Regional Park in Punta Gorda. Registration is $10 per event.

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