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Sonoma Wine Country Encore Senior Games


Sonoma Wine Country Encore Senior Games

Encore Games Draws Local Highly Experienced, Competitive Senior Athletes

By Cheri Lieurance

The Encore Games, a series of sports competitions for athletes over 50 held in various locations throughout the Bay Area, kicks off its Sonoma Wine Country series of events November 7. Council on Aging is hosting the Sonoma Wine Country section of the games, which features cycling, golf, volleyball, bowling, and pickleball.

“In keeping with our commitment to the promotion of healthy aging, we are happy to offer additional opportunities  for individuals over 50 to participate in spirited competition and to connect with other older athletes from across the state,” says Marrianne McBride, President and CEO of Council on Aging. 

The first-ever edition of the Encore Games offers senior athletes a second opportunity in California to qualify for the 2015 Summer National Senior Games in Minneapolis. The first state championships qualifier was held in Pasadena in June.

Below are some profiles of selected athletes competing in the Encore Games locally. 

Ron Hodges, 71, Healdsburg, cyclist

Ron Hodges, 71, has been cycling, both as a competitive and recreational rider, for 45 plus years. He logs about 12,000 miles a year, with no intention of slowing down. 

Hodges routinely treks the windy and sometimes steep backroads of Sonoma and Napa counties, recently traversing the Chalk Hill, Sweetwater Springs-Armstrong Woods route.

“I still get a kick out of cycling after 45 years. You develop long-term friendships with people you ride with and compete against,” said Hodges. He prides himself on being able to compete with, and often best, much-younger riders.

Hodges has won gold, silver, and bronze medals in three Sonoma Wine Country Games (a 10-day series of events for senior athletes held each year in June by Council on Aging), and plans to participate in the road race November 8 at the Encore Games, starting at 8 a.m. at the Cloverdale Transportation Depot.


Northern California Encore Senior GamesArlene Knudsen, 77, Windsor, pickleball player

Pickleball, although growing more competitive every year, is still very much about community and social engagement. About one year ago, according to Arlene Knudsen, a tight-knit group of local pickleball players got together and donated more than $10,000 to permanently line one of the tennis

courts at Finley Community Center in Santa Rosa to create four pickleball courts. Local players now take to the courts every day at the Finley Center, starting at 9 a.m.

The players share the responsibility of maintaining the condition and cleanliness of the courts, pulling squeegees, brooms and leaf-blowers out of the nearby storage shed as needed to make sure the surface is safe and ready for play.

“We’re very bonded, I’d say,” says Knudsen. The bonds extend beyond the immediate community of players. “Besides California players, we have met many from out of state and out of our country, including a couple from British Columbia who played at Finley while they were visiting,” Knudsen says.  

Knudsen will be joining other pickleball players at the Encore Games events in Sonoma County, playing in women’s doubles on November 7 at 9 a.m. at Finley Center in Santa Rosa with Kelly Kerst from Santa Rosa.


Denis Belletto, 70, Napa, volleyball player

“The couple that plays together stays together,” might apply to Denis Belletto and his wife Cheryl, who both have been playing volleyball for 40 years. They decided after getting married that they needed a shared athletic pastime, studied the basics in classes at Napa Valley College, and have become increasingly competitive in the sport.  Sometimes they play on separate men’s and women’s teams; other times they play on the same co-ed teams.

“Having a shared interest is very good, and we also get to travel together,” says Denis. “Another advantage is that, because we are able to play individually on a team, and then together, it turns a tournament into a whole weekend of fun.”

The couple will play in the Encore Games, Denis on a men’s over-65 team at 9 a.m. on November 8, and Cheryl on a women’s over-55 team at 9 a.m. November 9, both at Santa Rosa Junior College.


The Sonoma Wine Country Games is a wellness and lifestyle program sponsored by Council on Aging Services for Seniors. All proceeds benefit Legal, Financial, Social and Nutritional programs that support our aging community.