COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — A ball volleyed back and forth across the net. Eight players on either side vied for victory. The room what filled with whoops and hollers as one team took the lead, while rousing chants pushed the other side to keep going.

The energy was not unlike any other sports tournament, but its players were not the youthful, muscled athletes one might expect. This was the 2023 chair volleyball championships. The players were members of Frank D. Chester Senior Center, Gallops Senior Center and local senior living community Spring Harbor, many over the age of 60.

“It’s just so exciting to be able to do chair volleyball,” said 80-year-old Foster Martin, who spends his days as a security guard at the Columbus Trade Center.

On Monday evenings, Martin practices with the Gallops team. On Fridays, he plays with Frank D. Chester. Today, he competed for Gallops in a match against Spring Harbor.

Before the competition, Martin was confident he would be on the winning team. Six of his Trade Center coworkers came to cheer him on.

“When you find out about people’s hobbies and passions outside of work, I want to be able to support them and what they love to do,” said Haley Tillery, the executive director of the Trade Center, who was joined by members of the sales team who work with Martin every weekend at events. The women sat at a round table facing the chair volleyball court, cheering “C’mon, Mr. Martin!” and flashing a homemade sign reading “Go Mr. Martin!”  

“I will say, Mr. Martin, he cares about the facility. … He has the attention to detail,” said Tillery with a smile before continuing on, “So for us to be able to return the favor to him for something that he loves, that’s what today is all about.”

Chair volleyball games are played such that the first team to reach 15 points wins the round. Players compete seated in chairs arranged in a two-by-four grid and hit a beachball back and forth. Some wore masks and gloves.

Martin explained there would be two rounds for the championship. The game began at just past 2:20 p.m. and Gallops Senior Center quickly took the lead over Spring Harbor in the first round of competition. Martin was Gallops’ first server.

Over the course of the next 30 minutes, cheers for Spring Harbor never lost their strength. One fan waved her pom poms and shouted encouragement as others chanted.

The round ended with a final score of 15 to 3, with Gallops beating out Spring Harbor. The next game ended in a tie.

According to Martin, the chair volleyball league has been going since before the pandemic. While it currently has three teams, he hopes the league will grow to include more.

“I’d like to get it out into the community,” said Mr. Martin, adding he would like to see teams from local fire- and police departments, or even a team for people with disabilities.

He was glad to have the support of his fellow Trade Center employees. Martin said, “I’m just so excited to have them here because they are part of me and I’m part of them.”