Granny basketballers: 'You've got to keep active'by Elizabeth Baier, Minnesota Public Radio
FARIBAULT, Minn. — Inside the gymnasium at the Faribault Community Center, Judy Lee readied herself for a night basketball game.
As captain of the Faribault Hot Shots, she eyed the other team and prepared to take to the court for warm-ups with members of her squad — all of them over 50.
But Lee, 67, a retired physical education teacher who was clad in her team's signature yellow t-shirt, made sure to set the record straight about the older players on the floor.
"The misconception that people have is that we all just want to sit and talk about grandkids," Lee said, with a laugh. "Not so much. Grandkids are great, but still."
For a couple of dozen Minnesota women, playing basketball is just what the doctor ordered. The Faribault Hot Shots and the Wanamingo Bulldogs, the state's two self-described "granny" basketball teams, will host two Iowa teams Saturday in Minnesota's first granny tournament.
The women play for the love of the game, but they also take to the court to cope with the realities of aging.
On the other side of the court, the Bulldogs warmed up in their royal purple shirts. When the two teams meet, their games are usually officiated. But at a recent game, Lee got the scrimmage going.
"Okay, get your teams ready, and then we'll start the game," she told both teams. "Our green line there and our green line there are the center ... and the bluish line on the end is the boundary — and that's about it."
In granny basketball, teams hit the court for four, eight-minute periods. Only forwards are allowed to shoot the ball. Players cannot run or jump, not even when shooting. But they can speed walk across the court. Some women sometimes go against the no-running rule, but as in any game, the officials don't call violations consistently.
"If you hustle, that's OK," Lee said. "But it's kind of arbitrary that way."
Within minutes, the Hot Shots scored, to the cheers of teammates and relatives. According to the rules, players score three points for underhand shots, two points for other field goals and one point for free throws.
From the sideline, 60-year-old Bulldogs player Marlene Syverson rallies her teammates who trail behind.
"Nice job, Mary! Oh. Get it Mary. Hustle, hustle!" Syverson yells. "Good job, good job. Take your time Karen. Ooh ... Get it back, get it back."
Syverson said the women are good-natured, but competitive. She joined the team last year for the camaraderie and exercise.
"They keep saying you've got to keep active, your joints get stiff if you don't keep moving," she said. "By going out and practicing, we're not overdoing it. And if we have somebody fall down on the court, everybody stops playing, and they get up."
Across the country, dozens of granny basketball leagues have sprung up in the last decade, as members of the Baby Boom generation grow older and try to remain active.
In Minnesota, senior athletes compete annually in the Minnesota Senior Games. The games are a qualifier for the National Senior Games, scheduled in Cleveland this summer.
The southern Minnesota teams include retired doctors, pharmacists and teachers. Some women live on farms. Others are from surrounding towns, from Albert Lea to Pine Island.
By the half-time buzzer, the Hot Shots are in the lead but the Wanamingo Bulldogs hit center court for a cheer.
"Lutefisk, lutefisk, lefse, lefse," they chant. "We're the mighty Bulldogs. Yeah sure, you betcha."
The two teams have been competing for five years. Lee, who organized the Faribault squad, said they got off to a slow but steady start.
"It was really hard to get a team going," she said. "It took two years to get three people out and now we've got nine people."
There are 17 players on the Wanamingo Bulldogs.
Though they enjoy playing against each other, the women largely come to enjoy themselves — and for the exercise.
"It beats sitting on the couch. It really does," Lee said. "It's getting us a little bit of notoriety and that's not really what we're looking for, but it's fine."
Their next step is to find other teams to play against.
There are a number of men's basketball programs for older players, but women over 50 who want to play have had to create their own teams, Lee said.
Minnesota's two granny teams cater to players with a wide-range of skills, from former college athletes to rookies like 84-year-old Avis Erlanson.
Erlanson, the oldest player on the Bulldogs squad, started playing five years ago, as therapy for depression.
"My husband was sick at the time and Doctor Blue told me I had to go play basketball," she said. "I said, 'so what have you been smoking. I never played on any sport in my life.' "
Erlanson listened to her doctor, even after her husband died. Now, people ask her why she keeps playing.
"I just tell them I love it," she said. "Girls are all so nice to play with. I'm a klutz, but they have to put up with me."
At the buzzer, the Hot Shots beat the Bulldogs, 51 to 40.
Minnesota's granny teams may not be ready to compete in this summer's National Senior Games in Cleveland. But these grannies may just be up to the task by 2015, when the national games come to the Twin Cities.
- All Things Considered, 04/27/2012, 4:54 p.m.