June 17, 2023 5 min read 6 Comments
Howard Bich and his gear, which will wear out before he does. Photo by Arlene Bich.
By Ray Glier
He's 83 and Howard Bich (bish) maybe should have some guardrails. But he's a player and the spigots are wide open and he is wide open. Howard has always been a player in senior games and will be until the day he dies, which he envisions as maybe flying off a mountain on a bike. Yep, no guard rails on that mountain.
So if you are a referee or a score keeper, or if you are holding a stopwatch, or maybe a tape measure, or helming the check-in desk, or just making sure there is a ball for the competition, you have come face-to-face with Howard Bich, The Player.
He enjoys the game you are volunteering to run, whatever it is, as long as it’s not golf.
“Golf takes too long,” Bich says. “I can be playing other sports in the time it takes to play golf.”
He started counting down the list of competitions he has entered in various senior games the last 28 years and just when you think Howard has exhausted the list—and you—he says, “oh, I also entered …”
It's more than 35. Howard is not even sure of the total.
From shuffleboard to the 100 meters to the 5k to disc golf…and on and on.
Bich, who lives in Sioux Falls, S.D., has tried variations of 35+ events, but this does not include the Roy Hobbs Baseball Tournaments he plays in in Florida.
The Hobbs people keep raising the age limit as Howard ages, as if they are trying to keep pace with him.
Howard, The Player, cannot be contained, even at 83 years old.
His doctrinaire is, “I’d rather wear out than rust out.”
Mr. WD-40 lubricates every part of his body with constant sweat so that not even a fleck of dust can settle on him, much less a piece of rust. He vows to keep sporting until he “drops dead” or rides his bike off that mountain.
Bich has never met a sign-up sheet he didn’t like. He was in Iowa last weekend and Geezer Jock tried to reach him to see how he was doing. Predictably, he said of an interview, “It would have to wait until Monday.” There was too much fun going on for him to talk.
In that regard, the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh (July 7-18) are a light heave for Howard. He will do a sprint triathlon, 3-on-3 basketball, mixed doubles pickleball, and men's doubles pickleball.
Bich’s enthusiasm for senior games has helped make South Dakota, 47th by state in population, an exceller in games for senior athletes. Bich expects 600 competitors for its 2023 state senior games, held annually after Labor Day. 600!
That number beats states with triple or quadruple the population of the Mount Rushmore State. Not only that, South Dakota has regional competitions throughout the year, a further illustration of the Howard-like zeal of those people for playing.
Bich was executive director of the South Dakota Senior Games from 2013-2022. He had help. His wife, Arlene, was unofficially co-executive director because not even the inexhaustible Howard could grow the games like they grew. Before he was director, Howard was on the board for 12 years and served as treasurer for the last 5-6 years.
The Howard/Arlene dynamo had help, of course, and other states need to take note of the South Dakota game plan. This is a key takeaway from this edition of Geezer Jock.
First, the Bich’s are not afraid of the internet. They thrive with it. Older Americans are less feeble with the digital age than we realize. Some just choose not to get involved in the digital rigamarole, but the Bich's don't let screens intimidate them.
The Bich’s also know how to throw a party. Some states might hand out Hall of Fame awards in the middle of a track. South Dakota hands out Hall of Fame awards and other significant awards in the middle of a ballroom at a banquet.
The state also moves its state competition around to various cities and towns. Six locales so far have hosted and more people feel connected.
The rollicking Howard Bich has never thought about giving up his smorgasbord of events to practice one and get really good at it.
He has one word for the children today who specialize in one sport figuring a college scholarship awaits.
“Nonsense,” says Howard.
He grew up on a farm in Yale, South Dakota (population 150) when there was only one sport, baseball. But as soon as there was track, he jumped in. And then there was basketball and Howard, 5-foot-11, was a star. Out of Yale H.S., he received a scholarship to Augustana College (Sioux Falls), a small college powerhouse in the Midwest.
Sports was his education ticket because his family was poor, but Howard coveted the family farm. He wanted to be a farmer. There were cows to milk and pigs to chase. The family didn’t have electricity until 1947 when he was 7. There were eight of them. Yes, they walked to school in the snow. And they walked to school on the beautiful days on the prairie, too.
Their father, Herman, came to America when he was 13 or 14. The Germans were reaching into Poland to snatch German-speaking kids for World War I and Herman’s parents made him flee Europe for America, never to see their son again, but knowing he was safe.
Howard solved the issue of his love of farming and schooling and making a living by buying a small farm near Wagner, S.D. (sheep, pigs) and becoming a biology and chemistry teacher. He was a track coach and basketball coach and it was hard for Howard’s basketball players to challenge him because he didn’t give the nets a break. The man could shoot.
He can still shoot. In the Iowa Senior Games last weekend, Howard, 83, made 14 of 15 free throws and won a Gold medal. He doesn’t collect the medals any longer. Given all the sports he plays, he could sink a boat with the weight of medals.
Know this. There is no quarantine for Bich in his 80s. There are no woods in his mind’s eye, as if he is lost, wondering what to do. There is no being shut-in. In Howard’s world he is out there, for all to see, having fun…and playing.
“I’m not that fast anymore,” Howard said.
That’s ok. As Abraham Lincoln said, “I am a slow walker, but I never walk back.”
That's Howard Bich. Always walking forward, never back.
Arlene and Howard were quite the team managing the South Dakota Senior Games.
Please support the best storytelling on the internet about older people who exercise. They are not just "freakish" athletes, but people like you and me. This inelegantly named newsletter and web site (www.geezerjocknews.com) bring something to the crusade of being fit as we age.
Comments will be approved before showing up.
March 01, 2024 4 min readRead More
March 01, 2024 1 min readRead More