Granny’s Got Game

The real reward in speaking at the National Senior Games in Cleveland on behalf of the National Senior Basketball Association was not the chance to tell my tale, but to hear everyone else’s story.

One of the other speakers also was Angela Gorsica Alford, who played for the top-ranked women’s basketball team at Vanderbilt (1994-1997) and represented USA Basketball in international tournaments. She began her career as a software engineer for Motorola & Sony-Ericsson, and re invented herself after her children’s births by starting her own video production company in 2007.  A year ago, she launched Granny’s Got Game an inspiring documentary about the Fabulous 70s, a competitive senior women’s basketball team in North Carolina that battles physical limitations and social stigma to keep doing what they love. Who says girls can’t play ball? These grandmas defy age and gender stereotypes by dishing and driving into their seventies all the while racking up medals every step of the way. Liz still has an unstoppable, quick first step and Mary’s mastered a deadly left-handed hook.

“Just like so many younger sports teams, this one includes a bossy captain, a guard who never runs the plays correctly, a tentative post-player, and a bench warmer who wants to play more than anyone. As teammates and friends, they support each other off the court through the difficulties that accompany aging, such as breast cancer and widowhood.”

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Rose Boyd, Marilyn Asay, Bev Beck,Mary Ellen Philen, Brenda Taylor, Linda Burke

But the ladies I found most enchanting were the North Carolina women in the 65-69 category whose claim to fame was that they served as practice dummies for the fabulous 70s team featured in Granny’s Got Game.

« We helped them get good, » forward/center Marilyn Asay said.

In the gym, I watched the Scrappy Swishers from Raleigh fight. They had to be scrappy; they had no height.

The Swishers battled it out with the best of them even though one player (also the Fabulous 70s team coach) missed part of the basketball competition because she was off placing 3rd, the bronze medal in 65+ golf this year at the national games.

Members of the Swishers attended high school from 1958-62 (pre Title IX) and played 6-aside, 3 on each end of half court and were limited to only had 2 dribbles before they had to pass or shoot. A player was designated either a guard (defense) or forward (offense.)

« We resumed our basketball career after retirement at age 65 years. We hadn’t played for approximately 40 years, » Marilyn explained. «We are geographically ecumenical- Swishers recruited 2 players from North Carolina’s Outer Banks, who play with the team at local and state competitions. »

And get this.

« Two teammates host the team’s BBC (Beach Basketball Camp) twice each year, » Marilyn says with the enthusiasm of a teenager at a rock concert. « Our motto is fun, food, fellowship. Oh, and also practice, sun, sand, and surf.

During one of the Swishers games against the powerful Maine team, I watched Bev Beck all of 5-foot-2, 100 lbs. set a pick on a center twice her size for 72-year-old Marilyn who cut backdoor to the basket. The ladies huddled around Coach Angela at the time out and the referee gave also offered pointers. Every action reflected the spirit of the games. Fun, fitness, friendship, competition, comraderie, community.

While our present day sport stars are making the front page for domestic disputes, betting scandals and alleged homicides, our real heroes are playing ball in the shadows after having contributed to society as mothers, educators, hard workers, and beloved community members.

Like the filmy subtitle claims, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

Give me five, Granny. You may be wearing support hose, knee braces and platinum hips, but you still got game!

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Posted in education, health, humor, inspiration, relationships, social view, sport.

12 Comments

  1. Amen to that, Sista! I would encourage every woman who reads this to think about picking up a ball, a stick or pair of running shoes and getting back into the sport she loved as a youngster (health and physicality willing, of course). Or get this – pick up on a sport you’ve always wanted to play but didn’t have the skills for. The Never too Late organization in the Boston area gives just that opportunity. Men and women come together to learn the game they want to play and have lots of playing time. The Not Too Late basketball camp for women over 50 takes place every summer in Maine and women from all over the country come to take part.

    • Oh yes, Tina, the ladies at the games raved about the Not To Late Basketball Camp. With your energy and love of fitness, you would make a great spokeswoman for the National Senior Games especially after winning your own gold medal in basketball.

  2. Absolutely, Pat! Those of us fortunate enough to grow up active in sports — and determined enough to STAY active! — can certainly appreciate these women and their spunk. I understand that not everyone is physically able to play a demanding game like basketball, but research shows we’re better off if we find something we love, then do it. Much preferable to sitting in a rocking chair, don’t you think?

    • Yes, Debbie, although not all of us are able to participate in the activities we love due to due aging, illness or injury. Even though I can no longer pound the pavement or hit the the hardwood, I still swim. The secret to a happy life is finding ways to stay active and engaged in spite of limitations.

  3. Pat, What a powerful testimony and delightful story about the power of staying active as long as possible–“we don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing” I love it!

  4. Sis, Hats off to these inspirational “life experienced” ladies! They give me hope that my women’s group (all in our 50s) will still be hitting the mountain bike trails in our 70s! We just finished our 18th year this weekend in Hayward, Wisconsin. Fitness, Fun and Friendship sure goes a long way Baby!

    • So proud of you for staying so fit. Of course it helps living in America’s healthiest place Minneapolis-St.Paul Don’t forget I am going to coach you in the 2015 National Senior Games held in your fine city, so keep training, Babe.

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