Tuesday, October 5, 2004

Senior hoopsters still have the drive to play

Basketball league caters to ages 58 and older

By Shannon Russell
Enquirer staff writer

FLORENCE - Ray Pratt emerged from a throng of silver-haired players and charged downcourt, his wrist-guarded arms flailing.

The 73-year-old guard hollered "Ayyyyyyy!" into a fast-breaking opponent's ear, forcing the razzed player to clank the basketball off the rim. Pratt grabbed it, a satisfied grin on his lips. Yep, still got game.

Problem was, so did everyone else on the court.

Pratt is among the dozens of hoopsters playing in Boone County Community and Recreation Center's 58-and-older men's league, which is attracting its biggest numbers in its two-year existence.

"I love basketball. Played it all my life, except when I was in the Korean War," said Pratt, a Withamsville, Ohio, resident. "I'm going to live to 102 and play 'til I'm 90."

Decades after most played high school ball, the men have returned to relive their youthful days on the hardwood as four teams - filled with employees, retirees, husbands, fathers and grandfathers - battle for victory across two 20-minute halves.

While the game hasn't changed, Boone County Parks program planner Paul Ankenbauer said, the players have. He sized up a crew boasting seven knee braces, two pairs of safety glasses and two glasses guards.

The rec center has leagues for other ages, but created the 58-plus league because of increased interest. Teams are allowed to have one 56- and 57-year-old to fill out their rosters.

"It's a slower game," he said. "A lot of times their brain will tell them to do one thing and their body won't cooperate. But they have lots of fun."

Paul Hogan, a 71-year-old Burlington resident, supplements his daily 3-mile run by playing on two rec basketball teams. If you're competitive when you're young, you're competitive when you're older, he said, so you never know what will happen in a 40-minute game.

By Wednesday's end there was heavy laughter, heated jawing with officials, an ejection, a technical foul, a pulled hamstring, a gashed eyebrow and two rolled ankles.

"I like the competitiveness of it - it beats sitting at the house," said John Bain, 58, of Edgewood, who scored 25 points in Jets II's 57-53 defeat of Baker in game one. "I've been playing with some of these guys since grade school."

Norwood resident Pierce Foster, 59, was perplexed as he counted only three PF Flyers teammates warming up for game two. His teammates, too, were 30-year friends, and he didn't remember any canceling plans.

"Well, this has never happened before," Foster said. "Oh well - let's go!"

Jets I put only four of its five players to beat the PF FLyers 62-47. Play was suspended briefly in the second half as Jet I player Dan Holman fell, pulled a leg muscle and cut his eyebrow.

It's not usually so physical, but keeping active is the best part, Pratt said. That and being able to play the game you love.

"You're moving around," Pratt said. "It keeps you healthy."

If you go

What: 58-and-over men's basketball league

Where: Boone County Community and Recreation Center, 212 Main St., Florence. (859) 371-4680.

When: Wednesday nights

Details: The season ends Nov. 17 but Boone County Parks program planner Paul Ankenbauer said interested players can still register. Teams paid $375 so players may be asked to pay a fee.


E-mail srussell@enquirer.com

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