By Camm Ashford
Richard West was one of four athletes and organizers recently inducted into the 2022 Tennessee Senior Olympics (TSO) Hall of Fame during a ceremony held in Franklin, Tenn.
West, 59, is a member of the Chattanooga Parks and Outdoors staff who has dramatically increased athlete participation from the Chattanooga area and has helped with the state finals for more than 30 years.
“When I joined the parks department in 1988, we had very limited participation in the games–just a few team sports with a total of about 40 athletes,” West explained. “My supervisor challenged me to reach out to a wider group of seniors and to build support for them to participate in a larger number of sports. We now have seniors participating in every sport and have about 400 athletes joining our district events.”
West has worked every state final since 1990, and brings a staff of 6-12 to help run the games.
“When I attended my first state finals, I was amazed at the senior athletes, their athleticism and the fun they had at the games,” he said. “At that time, we didn’t have a true senior program at any of our centers. The Senior Olympics inspired me to change that because I saw firsthand, not only was it possible to compete after the age of 55 (the minimum age back then), but it was also necessary for us to better serve our senior population by offering them avenues to compete. And almost everyone was humble in victory and gracious in defeat. I’ve also built great friendships through the games that I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Besides West, this year’s other inductees into TSO’s 5th class include former nurse Joan Conant of Kingsport, 81; Navy veteran Joe Daws of Nashville, 95; and 78-year-old Carol Stricklin of Arlington, a member of the Age Defyers basketball team.
Each year, four individuals who have demonstrated their long-term commitment to and participation in the games are inducted into the TSO Hall of Fame.
Since 1981, thousands of the state’s top senior athletes have competed in sanctioned District Olympics which are dedicated to promoting healthy lifestyles for seniors through fitness, sports and an active involvement in life. The games feature 20 sports, including basketball, swimming, track and field, tennis, bowling, and pickleball.
The championships are held each spring in greater Chattanooga, Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, Jackson, Johnson City, Crossville, Columbia, Martin and Athens. TSO’s largest state finals attracted almost 2,000 participants for the week-long sports celebration.
Tennessee Senior Olympics, Inc. is a member of the National Senior Games Association, the largest sporting group in the United States. A 501c3 non-profiit organization, it is endorsed by the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association. Its mission is “to contribute to the vision of healthy, active, and vital senior adults.”
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee has been a sponsor of the Tennessee Senior Olympics for more than 40 years, and established the Hall of Fame program in 2017.