Ray Corpuz had his first taste of bigtime shuffleboard at the 2019 National Senior Games in Albuquerque, but his inspiration to eventually participate goes back a dozen years.
When Ray, who is equal parts Filipino and Native American, retired from his career as a Toyota mechanic in 2009, he and his wife moved from Long Beach, California to the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico.
There he heard reverent stories about his late uncle Sam Antonio, who was an accomplished archer who had won gold in Senior Games. “Everybody knew him for that, and I remembered him for being a veteran who was in the Bataan Death March in World War II.”
“I had the idea to do archery like him and go to the New Mexico Senior Olympics,” he says. “But I found it was too hard to pull his bow and shoot. I tried basketball and horseshoes that first year and then saw shuffleboard. I thought that looked like a good sport to try.” Ray literally learned the game on a shuffleboard mat that his Uncle Sam bought for the Laguna senior center.
Once he qualified at the state games in 2018, it was an easy decision to go to the 2019 Nationals being hosted right up the road in ABQ. Two and a half years later, Ray finds himself sitting courtside in the Broward County Convention Center enjoying 2022 mixed doubles competition with his partner Edna Jiron of the Isleta Pueblo. He’s hooked now.
Ray loves the atmosphere and the camaraderie, although he notes with a laugh that “Some of them get a little picky about too much noise.” He also fell in love with the sport and the competition. “I like the intensity of the game.”
Shuffleboard is intense?
“If you’re ahead it’s easy. You get behind, now you’re in trouble,” he observes. “Every shot counts, every movement you make on the mat just builds the intensity. Yeah. It’s relaxed if you’re up, but if you get behind you are done.”
By that definition Ray and Edna had a very intense experience in 2022, getting behind and losing three straight matches. “And Edna, she’s good. She’s one of the best players at Isleta,” he notes. “But I put it on two years of not practicing because they demolished the gym we used to play in and we had no place to go until it was replaced.”
The loss sticks in Ray’s craw a bit, so he’s got a fire started to do better in Pittsburgh next summer. The ironic thing that occurs to us is that Ray would not be motivated to be on the road to a more active lifestyle if he hadn’t cried “Uncle.”