Virginia Kotow needs a walker for walking, but now she's bowling and playing tennis and is considering taking up baseball and golf.
Mrs. Kotow, 89, of Bethel Park, was consistently bowling strikes and spares on a recent outing at the Peters Township Public Library. She's having fun, getting some exercise, learning new skills and making new friends. All of this is accomplished with video games and the help of teenage volunteers.
The Wii Sports for Seniors program, using the Nintnedo Wii, started June 9 when seven seniors -- including Mrs. Kotow -- showed up. They all came back for the second session Monday and they spread the word, swelling the Wii ranks to 18 seniors.
Teen volunteers show them how to use the Wii-mote -- a lightweight motion-detecting controller that is swung like a tennis racket, baseball bat, bowling ball or golf club. The seniors watch their game played out on a large flat screen television in the library's new teen room, which opened in May.
"The first week they showed us baseball, golf and bowling," Mrs. Kotow said.
"The ball comes in too fast for me in tennis. We want to bowl," she told volunteers Andy Weaver, 16, and Katie Shultz, 15, both of Peters, and Alex Barndollar, 14, of Bethel Park.
Volunteers dutifully set up the bowling game and patiently gave instructions to first-time Wii players.
Dorothy Kinkus, 74, of Cannonsburg, was having an amazing run on strikes and spares in just her second outing. But she admitted she came back to the library three times, in the last week, to practice.
"I decided I needed some exercise," said Mrs. Kinkus, who actually prefers the tennis game. "I am not a sports person. I always hated exercise because it is boring but this is fun."
Mrs. Kotow said, "I did bowl in my younger days and I went roller skating and ice skating." She also, in the past, taught line-dancing at the Community College of Allegheny County.
Mrs. Kotow rests her left hand on one handle of her walker and uses her right hand to hold the controller and move her arm in a bowling motion.
First-time players were astounded to see that their Wii bowling balls sometimes hooked to the left or right and wound up in the gutter, just as a badly-thrown real ball would do. An energetic arm motion might mean a strike while a less energetic release would leave three or four pins standing.
Everyone applauded when their new friends knocked down all the pins. They also offered help and encouragement when bowling pins or tennis balls were missed.
Most of the Wii players at the library are high-school and middle-school students, but entire families are showing up to play, said Kelly Rottmund, young adult librarian at the Peters facility.
Children who come to play computer games are also reading books and competing in the summer reading program to see who reads the most books, she said.
Sign-up times for computers and video games are scheduled by librarians so that everyone has a chance to play.
The new teen room is soundproofed, thus eliminating the need for librarians to "shush" enthusiastic competitors. The room also has Xbox 360.
The teen room is part of a $1 million expansion project that added 4,800 square feet to the library, which is now 27,800 square feet. Shelving capacity has been increased by 50,000 volumes, the children's department has been enlarged and there's a new local history room.
The state offered a $500,000 grant that had to be matched by local fundraising. The grand opening ceremony for the addition was held in April.
Wii Sports for Seniors will continue tomorrow and on June 30, from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Participants can register at the circulation desk.
For information, visit www.ptlibrary.org or call 724-941-9430.
Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-3064.