SAN DIEGO – Sounds from the gym suggested an ordinary basketball game: tennis shoes squeaking against a slippery court, thumping thumps of a ball, the shrill whistle of a referee.
But inside was a rare painting. Older women, some in the ’80s and’ 90s, rushed to pass, steal and shoot. They dribbled and zigzagged skillfully as they sprinted towards the basket.
Former professional basketball player Kirsten Cummings remembers the first time she walked into this YMCA in the Mission Valley neighborhood of San Diego.
“There is this group of women playing and I was so fascinated by them. They were 75, ”Cummings told me. “I have goosebumps.”
It’s the San Diego Senior Women’s Basketball Association, one of the biggest leagues in the country for women 50 and over. California’s second-largest city is home to several senior sports teams and hosts the San Diego Senior Games, which annually attract thousands of competitors from across the state for an Olympic-style event.
“We’re very much about the outdoors and getting fit, so it was only natural for the Senior Games to flourish here,” said Cummings, who grew up in San Diego and now oversees the event. “San Diego has people who don’t hesitate to learn basketball at the age of 79. “
One recent Sunday morning, I chatted on the sidelines of the YMCA court with Marge Carl, who has played in the women’s league since its inception in the mid-1990s.
Carl, now 92, wore a blue swimsuit to match his bright eyes. Her team, the Splash, which is reserved for women 80 and over, was scheduled to compete in 45 minutes.
The league consists of 75 women divided into 13 teams, grouped roughly by skill level, who compete against each other every Sunday. The matches are played three against three for 30 minutes on a half court.
Carl, like most women here, came of age before Title IX, the 1972 Civil Rights Act which dramatically increased the opportunities for women to participate in school sports. So she only learned to play basketball in her sixties.
But that’s kind of his style. She graduated from college in her seventh decade. She retired well in her 80s.
Carl showed his temple and warned me, “This only dies if you allow it.” “
For her 90th birthday, she went skydiving: “There was a man strapped to my back. How bad could it be? “
Beginners in the basketball league learn to keep and rebound in its rookie training program. And once on a team, players can be 40 or older to hone their skills.
Cummings, who coached the Splash as a volunteer, said she was initially surprised by the desire of older women to improve themselves. She once slept during practice and was reprimanded by an 80-year-old player.
“I’ll tell you, I never missed practice after that,” Cummings said. “The more I trained them, the more I could see past that facade of, you know, they’re sweet old ladies.” No, they are serious senior athletes.
The league also counteracts the slow progression of loneliness that accompanies aging.
Carl told me his childhood friends are dead. Other women have outlived their spouses for decades. Their children are often absorbed in the responsibilities of their own families.
But these teammates meet in the field several times a week. The players officiated at each other’s weddings and took trips together.
Carl nodded at a young woman lacing up her sneakers. This year, she drove Carl to his appointments for the Covid-19 vaccine.
“They are brotherhood,” Carl told me.
Currently the oldest member in the league is 95, but she was recovering from surgery when I visited. Other players have been sidelined due to injuries or health issues that have worsened over the years. The physical assessment of aging is highlighted in the field.
Marianne Hall, 86, was coaching high school girls’ basketball when Title IX was launched. But she had only played on a team herself in the 1990s, when her friend told her about the newly formed San Diego league.
“I don’t jump anymore,” Hall recalls.
“None of us are jumping,” replied the woman.
When the games ceased last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hall wondered if she was too old to return. She is afraid of falling. Although the league now has a vaccine requirement, many players have not returned since training resumed in June.
But Hall, who recently became a great-grandmother, wore her headband and swimsuit this Sunday morning. She was ready to play.
At noon, the women rushed onto the pitch for the next game, between Hall and Carl’s teams.
The players, many masked, quickly passed the ball between them. Some tried to intercept and block the fire.
Within minutes, Carl grabbed the ball. She raised her arms and lifted them to the basket.
If you read a story, do this
Late Tuesday night, NASA launched a new mission: crash into an asteroid, defend planet Earth.
Where we travel
Today’s travel advice – or rather the advice – comes from Gretchen Henry:
It was a lifelong dream to live in California. We settled in Santa Barbara County. Here are my favorite places to visit that we loved during our 20 years there:
1) Loved the Ojai Valley Inn and Resort in Ojai. A beautiful setting for the graceful building and gardens
2) The grocery store and health food store just before arriving in Solvang; you can sit outside and have a picnic in the neighboring cellars
3) I loved visiting Pasadena – San Marino and its beautiful gardens
4) Palm Desert – especially in the evening
5) Drive through the desert from Santa Barbara to Sacramento
6) Of course, Lake Tahoe
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.
What we recommend
Our 100 Remarkable Books of 2021.
Do you have a story about a time when you saw your parents or your elders differently? Share your story with the “Modern Love Podcast” and you could make it into a future episode.
And before leaving, some good news
Three students from Humboldt County have been selected to play in the Indigenous Bowl – an annual football game honoring 60 of the nation’s top high school football players.
Hoopa High School student and member of the Yurok Tribe Darvin Davis IV told Local Coast Outpost he was looking forward to meeting other young Indigenous players from across the country. The game will take place in Minneapolis on December 5.
“This is the most exciting part about it,” Davis said. “To meet and play with new people and to make new brothers and bonds that I will never forget.”