Beating the Odds: ‘Shuffleboard Bob’ saves the day for Mesa seniors

Robert “Shuffleboard Bob” Zaletel worked to restore shuffleboard courts at a Mesa senior living community, furthering his reputation in the sport. (David Minton/Staff)

By Josh Ortega

Thanks to one man, the residents of The Citadel Senior Living Community in Mesa have a new way to stay active.

Robert “Shuffleboard Bob” Zaletel’s efforts resulted in two refurbished shuffleboard courts for residents. It’s also home to The Citadel Vikings, the community’s shuffleboard team and part of the Arizona Shuffleboard Association. 

But of all Zaletel’s accomplishments, he never thought he’d accomplish this. 

“I mean this with all my heart: I never thought we could even do that,” Zaletel says. “And then once people started coming out, I thought maybe we put a little team together, and some of these some of these people, they never miss (a game).”

Before Zaletel picked up a shuffleboard cue, he was a star baseball player at Lorain High School in Lorain, Ohio, where he helped his team to the 1957 state championship, and played Division 1 basketball at Kent State University, where he graduated with a bachelor of science in education in 1963.

Zaletel started playing shuffleboard 35 years ago when he was living in Las Vegas and working as a special education teacher for fourth and fifth graders.

The natural athlete has continued to earn countless tournament wins and was inducted into Arizona Shuffleboard Association Hall of Fame and USA National Shuffleboard Association Player Hall of Fame in 2007. 

The humble Zaletel says the only other person to accomplish this feat: his shuffleboard mentor Bud Walrath.

“I say that with pride, and now I’m not trying to brag, but I’m kind of proud of that fact,” Zaletel says. 

Zaletel was president of the Arizona Shuffleboard Association in 2000 and suggested to the international association that they bring their biggest tournament back to Mesa for the first time since 1991.

In March 2003, about 250 American, Canadian, Australian, Japanese and Brazilian players converged on Mesa’s Las Palmas Grand for the World Championship Tournament.

Zaletel says his most memorable tournament happened in 1999 in Hemet, California, where he and his good friend Ed played in a doubles tournament comprising 192 teams. 

Seven straight wins in a row and the pair found themselves playing against a hometown team from Hemet.

When the dust settled, Zaletel and his Canadian friend walked out of that tournament with $1,300 in prize money, but to this day he’d rather have the trophy. 

“I’d rather have a trophy that I can put on my trophy case,” Zaletel says. “I’m what you call old fashioned.”

Terry Speth, executive director of The Citadel, says Zaletel approached him with an idea about four months ago to fix the old shuffleboard courts, which had fallen into disarray. 

With unkept hedges and overgrowth that made the courts unserviceable, Speth started to research the cost to resurface the courts and landscape the area as well as see if other residents had an interest in playing on them.

Normally good at knowing his resident’s needs, Speth says this is the first time a resident has taken an active role in providing something for the facility.

 “This the first time we’ve actually had a resident come with a plan,” Speth says. “He’s the one that did the research on how much it would cost to redo the courts.”

Speth says the location gives the residents a perfect spot to play year-round.

“It’s shaded pretty well the way it’s located in here and they can actually play in the afternoons easily even during the hotter times because it’s in the shade,” Speth says. 

With physical activity so crucial to an aging population’s health, Speth says it’s awesome to have Zaletel motivating other residents to stay active. 

“So, it’s just a huge asset to our facility to have a resident like him that wants to improve other people’s lives, keep them active, keep them you know moving,” Speth says. “That’s a big thing at their age, they need to keep active if they want to keep going.”

On January 13, Mary Alice McKim led the visiting shuffleboard team from Orangewood Shadows RV Park. 

McKim started playing in 2011 and once played in a tournament with Zaletel, so she knew his reputation.

 “So, you can imagine how nervous I was knowing the reputation of Bob,” McKim says. “But he was wonderful, and I enjoyed it.”

McKim says Zaletel was instrumental in getting her and their league started as well and though The Citadel’s court doesn’t compare to her home courts, she’s happy for the residents and what Zaletel has done for them.

“Bob is very passionate about shuffleboard, and I think it’s great that he’s come here and got this set up for the people in the residence here and I look forward to them to continuing,” McKim says.