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Wilsonville bridge community remains active, but seeks younger players

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Carol Schaefer scans her hand during an afternoon of contract bridge at the Wilsonville Community Center. Doubleton, dummy, overcall and sign-off are just a few terms you’re likely to hear if you stop by the Wilsonville Community Center on a Friday afternoon.

That’s one of several days during the week when you’ll find a group of Wilsonville bridge enthusiasts hard at play. The American Contract Bridge League says that its membership has reached its highest point ever this year, and Wilsonville seems to be a case in point.

“There seems to be a growing interest in learning more about bridge,” says Dale Williamson, who has played bridge in Wilsonville for 20 years. He began to teach classes 10 years ago, and is the instructor for a beginners’ class at the Community Center this fall.

Many of these new players are baby boomers, according to Williamson.

“I’ve taught several classes there now for people who played bridge 20, 30, 40 years ago, who are now retiring and want to learn more about current conventions and guidelines for regular contract bridge,” he says.

Other players may have grown up with a bridge player, but who never played themselves. “Maybe their parents had played, and they want to learn the basics of the game,” says Williamson.

For his part, Williamson picked up bridge in college, playing for fun at the student union. By the end of his junior year, he was competing in the international collegiate league.

Several years in the military followed, but Williamson kept with the game. “As a first and second lieutenant in the Army on starvation wages, bridge was a very cheap way to entertain yourself,” he says.

After leaving the Army and earning a doctorate in polymer chemistry, Williamson found that, for a time, he was too busy to play much bridge. He began to commit more time to the game 15 years ago, when he retired at age 62.

Dick McPartland and his sister Barbara Friesen developed an interest in bridge after their mother — who was 93 years old at the time — moved to Wilsonville in 2009.SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - While more baby boomers are becoming involved in bridge, the game has had little luck attracting the younger generation - so far.

“She passed away a year later or so, but she and I played, and after she passed away, my sister started playing in the every-other-Tuesday group at the Community Center,” says McPartland. “I started playing more, and I took some lessons offered there by Dale Williamson.”

Now McPartland and his sister organize a Tuesday afternoon bridge meetup at the Community Center, which he says regularly draws between 16 and 24 players. He says that he’s drawn to the game for several reasons.

“It’s a very interesting, challenging game,” he said. “It’s a community. It’s about relationships. I know quite a few people through bridge at the Community Center.”

Williamson emphasizes several of the same elements when explaining what he enjoys about the game. It’s important, he says, to find a friend with whom to develop an experienced partnership. He also says that he enjoys the game’s competitive aspect.

“I think that the most fun part of it is, it does challenge your mental capacity, and it’s always fun to try to figure out the best way to attack a hand, and to make a difficult hand,” Williamson says. “It’s always fun to try to figure out the best way to attack a hand, and to make a difficult hand.

“I’d say that anyone who plays bridge very long gets rather competitive by nature,” he says with a laugh.

Williamson says that he does wish there were a way to get more young people interested in the game.

“We’d love to see more young folks get interested in bridge. That seems to be the bugaboo that myself and several other people who’ve taught classes have dealt with,” Williamson says.

Williamson chalks this difficulty up to the distracting influence of smartphones and technology. McPartland attributes the game’s demographic more to whether or not bridge was popular when one was born than to technology.

“I don’t know that it appeals to older people as much as it was a game that people learned to play in the ’40s and ’50s. It’s a game that was much more popular,” McPartland says.

“Kids today just have more options than there were in the ’50s,” says Darbi Padbury, a marketing manager for the American Contract Bridge League.

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - A trick-taking game, bridge has its origins in whist, a popular 19th century card game. The League has taken certain steps to remedy the matter, she says. Since the late ’80s it has helped to organize bridge clubs and events at schools across the country and in Canada. Padbury says that these activities involve more than 4,000 annually. Most of the programs are extracurricular, but some schools offer bridge as a part of the school day, since bridge can help to foster deductive reasoning skills.

“I wish that I knew an easy way to get (young peoples’) interest piqued a little bit. But the age of the average bridge player, according to the American Contract Bridge League, is rapidly aging, and approaching the time that the overall number of bridge players is falling off,” Williamson says.

Although he thinks youth would benefit from playing bridge, Williamson says that the cognitive benefits of the game are indeed especially beneficial for older players. Studies have shown that playing bridge regularly into one’s leisure years can help to stave off some of the effects of aging. For that reason — and for his love of the game generally — Williamson remains excited about the possibility of teaching older players to better understand the game as well.

“It exercises the old noodle,” says Williamson. “It’s great in that sense.”

For more information about bridge meet-ups in Wilsonville, visit the Parks and Recreation website at

Contact Jake Bartman at 503-636-1281 ext. 113 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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