With the first serve of the volleyball, 12 players are on the move, throwing down some vicious spikes and talking trash.
But what makes these players unusual is that none of them is younger than 50. They are members of the Pasadena Senior Volleyball League.
Every Sunday and Tuesday from October through March, these energetic elders don their team jerseys and knee pads and play some of the best volleyball in the state.
Sit at home and collect pension checks as time passes them by? No way, say the players.
"When you retire, you have to have something that interests you," said Al Zucchi, a 67-year-old setter for the league-leading Guardex team who retired from Westinghouse several years ago. "Otherwise, you might as well go back to work.
L "If there's a ballgame someplace, I'll be playing," he said.
The volleyball league began six years ago as a way to keep in shape after the end of the senior softball season, said George Kelch, president of the league.
The first year, there were about 30 players and five teams, Kelch said. The league now has 60 members spread among six teams. There's even a team from Montgomery County that drives to the evening games at George Fox Middle School and Northeast Senior High School.
The teams play each other in a round-robin format and count a set as a single game. The team with the best record is crowned the regular-season champion, but there is also a playoff to determine the league victor.
The competition is fierce because the league champion earns a bid to compete in the Maryland Senior Olympics. A good showing there means a trip to the National Senior Olympics, Kelch said.
"For guys our age, it's no backyard game," he said. "These guys are still athletes, and they go at it seriously."
Tuesday night's game was a vivid example of that. Defending champion Norwood, which has a 23-12 record, faced 4-28 Hoffman.
On the first point of the first set, Norwood's Paul Zimmerman threw his 6-foot-3-inch frame on the floor to save a point. The 56-year-old medical equipment sales representative dived repeatedly throughout the match.
"That's the way I play," he said with a shrug of the shoulders. "I don't know any other way."
Bonnye Lang, who has refereed the league's games for several years, said she still shakes her head in wonder when she sees the players dive and crash into walls for loose balls.
"It amazes me what they do," Lang said. "They obviously are athletes who don't take age into consideration."
And they don't go without some good-natured ribbing. Cries of "Don't choke!" and "You gotta jump for that! You're only 3 feet high!" echo in the small gymnasium.
Norwood easily won the first three games, 15-4, 15-10, and 15-2. Behind the dipping serve of Dave McKinnon and the solid blocking of Jim Van Gunsteren, Hoffman battled to take a 15-14 lead in the fourth and final game, but Norwood won the last three points to complete the sweep.
The Hoffman players were disappointed with the result, but setter Jeannette Adler said the record is not the most important thing.
"It's all about having fun," said the 63-year-old Davidsonville woman. "You meet a lot of nice people. I enjoy their company."
Pub Date: 12/20/96