One man had a stroke. Another is fighting cancer. A third is deaf. One woman is blind in one eye and has only partial sight in the other. A couple are grieving the loss of their only child.
But for several hours a day five days a week, the 10 to 15 elderly people on the shuffleboard courts at the Paramount Community Center forget their ailments or misfortunes and concentrate on shuffleboard.
"We all have our oddities, but this keeps us going. It's our therapy," Leona Johnson said.
Johnson and her husband, Arnold, both 73, lost their only child, Luanne Johnson, 43, who died of an aneurysm in May. Through all of their pain, the game helped them endure, Arnold Johnson said.
The Johnsons are founders of the Paramount Shufflers, a 5-year-old shuffleboard club. They spent years lobbying city officials to improve the facilities at the Community Center.
The couple and other members of the Shufflers, along with Long Beach resident Joy Moore, also helped organize the Houghton Park shuffleboard club in North Long Beach.
From 2:30 to about 5 p.m. each day, the Paramount Shufflers can be found pushing yellow and black rubber discs, which are about six inches in diameter, up and down the cement courts with metal-prong cue sticks. A player can score from 7 to 10 points when his disc lands on a certain area of the triangular-shaped goal. A player can prevent a score by striking his opponent's disc and knocking it from the triangle.
Bad weather is the only thing that stops them. Temperatures in the 100s and gusty winds caused them to suspend their game one day recently.
Paramount resident Irene Philerick, 68, who started playing in December after a cataract operation on her right eye, echoed the group sentiments when she said: "I'd rather do this than eat."
But Philerick does eat every day at the center's Elderly Nutrition Program with the other players from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, before they retreat to the courts.
These shuffleboard fanatics pay $5 a year to join the Paramount Shufflers. The money buys cookies and refreshments. Besides playing against each other, some of them travel to clubs in other cities to compete, while a few take part in statewide competition.
"The game gets them out in the air. It occupies their time. It is also competitive," said Moore, 57, a former Cal State Dominguez Hills student.
Moore met the Shufflers in the fall of 1989, while serving an internship at Houghton Park in North Long Beach. The internship was part of a requirement for Moore to receive her bachelor of arts degree in human services in June.
"The eight courts at Houghton were in bad condition. There were no benches, no scoreboard or covering for shade for the players," Moore said.
"I went to Paramount to find out what shuffleboard was all about. The Paramount players are real nice. And they know the game. You can't go around them unless you play shuffleboard. They even got me to play."
Moore said that with the assistance of the Johnsons and other Paramount players, who went to North Long Beach and gave demonstrations, the Houghton Park players have been able to start a shuffleboard club. The city of Long Beach resurfaced the Houghton Park courts and installed benches and scoreboards. But the courts remain without covering, Moore said.
The Johnsons started attending the Paramount Community Center in the mid-1980s. The couple spent four years lobbying Paramount city officials to build wooden sun coverings for all of the six concrete courts. Only three courts had covers when the Johnsons arrived. The couple also persuaded the city to build additional benches.
"The Johnsons are tough. They are persistent," Paramount Deputy City Manager Patrick West said.
In the last year and a half, the city has spent approximately $5,000 for improvements on the courts, said Richard Leahy, another deputy city manager.
The Johnsons said they intend to try and get city officials to install lights so games can be played at night, and will ask that the area be enclosed to give further protection from the wind and sun.
"We know this could take a long time. City money has to go for other things, but they'll finally get around to us," Leona Johnson said.
Arnold Johnson is president of the Shufflers; Leona is treasurer. Together they act as motivators to the other players. They encourage the others to keep playing, and not to give in to problems.
Hershel Sparks, 76, is one of those who was encouraged to continue playing after he had a stroke that affected his right upper body several years ago.
Eustolio Sanchez, who is deaf and at 92 is the oldest member, is a regular player. Harley Priddy, 74, the club's best player, comes from his home in Downey to Paramount because he enjoys the camaraderie. Priddy won a silver medal for second place in the Long Beach Senior Games in May. Game events included shuffleboard, swimming, bridge and bowling.
Ernest Calonge, 80, who started playing about three years ago after a prostate cancer operation, said that not only is the game therapy but it is simple. Anyone can play.
"It doesn't take much brainpower or muscles," Calonge said. "You can waste a lot of time. It's a lot of fun."