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Senior racquetball championships come to a close Saturday

After an afternoon match of racquetball Friday, two elderly men move from the game court to an adjacent one to cool down. Although the competition between them is over, they move lightly on their feet, hitting the ball against the wall with precision time after time.

When they finish, the shorter one holds out the ball to his friend.

“I want you to sign your name on that, Bill,” he says. “It’s the game ball.”

Looking at Lake Westphal and William “Bill” Matotan, one would think that they’re probably in their late 70s at the oldest. However, both are actually 95, making them the oldest players in this year’s IRF World Senior Racquetball Championships, which began Tuesday in Albuquerque and will conclude today.

“I’ve come to nearly all of the 33 tournaments,” said Westphal after the match against Matotan at Midtown Sports and Wellness.

Westphal and Matotan have been playing racquetball for more than 50 years. Although they are from different states — Matotan is from Albuquerque while Westphal hails from Sun City, Ariz., — they have become friends through their repeated participation in the tournament.

They said one of racquetball’s biggest draws for them is the health benefits.

“It’s helped me because I haven’t had heart troubles,” said Matotan. “I haven’t had many troubles of any kind.”

Westphal’s wife, Ann, said racquetball has made a huge difference in her husband’s health.

“He had an ulcer and the doctor told him to exercise to lessen the stress of his life, so that’s why he started playing racquetball,” she said.

On Friday, it was Westphal who emerged from the match victorious, having won two of the three games. However, both men seemed to be much more concerned with the overall experience than who the winner was.

“You can look at younger accomplished players and you might pick up some new stuff,” said Matotan.

The tournament was open to adults as young as 33, according to Gary Mazaroff, the executive director of the championships.

Despite Matotan’s eagerness to learn new tricks, which was echoed by Westphal, Cheryl Kirk, the secretary of the International Racquetball Federation’s board, said their existing skill sets are already very impressive.

“They’re smart because they’ve played so many matches against so many people,” she said. “They know the strategies and they know where to put the shot.”

Kirk said both men played in a round-robin tournament of men ages 85 and up, but will be scored in their own 95 plus division. Westphal will receive a gold medal and Matotan a silver at the tournament’s award banquet tonight.

Going forward, neither Westphal nor Matotan have any plans to quit the game.

“I made a goal for myself about two years ago,” said Westphal. “It was that I’m going to be playing racquetball when I’m 100.”