ZELIENOPLE, Pa. (McClatchy) — For the past two years, Ruth Parker has practiced shuffleboard strategy, week after week, in the hallways of her retirement community.

Not that a lack of a legitimate shuffleboard court ever slowed down Parker, 91: She went on to win a gold medal in shuffleboard for the fourth time during the National Senior Games this week.

The Games, a branch of the Olympics, began in 1984 and take place every two years, said Beth Pinkney director of the local organizing committee for the event. This year, it took place in Minneapolis, with more than 10,000 senior athletes competing between July 3 and Wednesday, Ms. Pinkney said.

Parker, of Zelienople, competed against two other women in the 90 to 94 age group — “You have to understand that when you’re in the 90 group, there aren’t many people,” she said — and came out victorious.

But Parker, a retired registered nurse, is no stranger to shuffleboard success. For each of the four national senior games where she has competed, she has won a gold medal.

“The first time, I didn’t even think about getting a medal,” she said. “I just wanted to go.”

Shuffleboard is a game in which people use long sticks, or cues, to push weighted discs into a marked scoring area on the floor. Because opponents can knock other player’s discs off the floor, Parker said it is a game of strategy.

Though she loves the game, the best part about the competitions is the people that she gets to meet. During one of the games, Parker’s daughter, Linda Cicconi, watched her mother give pointers to her competition.

In some ways, shuffleboard is a family affair for Parker. She first competed in the games in 2009, so her husband and all six of her children traveled with her to Stanford University to watch. Afterward, they rented a house in San Francisco and celebrated the couple’s 65th wedding anniversary.

“She knows so much about the game, she probably should be teaching others,” Cicconi, 66, of Ohio Township said. Cicconi has watched all of her mother’s matches, traveling with her to and from various cities.

Sandi Quinn, president of the National Shuffleboard Association, said although many people tend to view shuffleboard as an older person’s sport, that stigma is beginning to change.

“More people are pushing it now than they used to,” Quinn said, adding that shuffleboard’s popularity is starting to increase after a period of stagnation.

Since Parker started playing 12 years ago, shuffleboard has become an increasingly important part of her life. Her retirement community in Florida had a shuffleboard court, and once she decided to start playing, she loved it.

Now living in Pennsylvania, Parker is trying to find a nearby shuffleboard court where she can play.

“It’s not so much as winning the gold,” Cicconi said. “That’s fun and gets you out there, but at the same time, she misses the game.”

And when Parker had to qualify at the state level to compete in the games, a necessity for every athlete, her daughter drove her to Hershey, she said.

Parker has traveled around the country, a made-for-travel shuffleboard cue tucked into her suitcase, to play her game. She has her eyes on the 2017 competition now, which will take place in Birmingham, Alabama.

“People sometimes laugh at shuffleboard, but it’s an amazing game,” she said.

By Megan Henney

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/McClatchy