San Diego’s oldest female basketball players explain why they play
SAN DIEGO — The sounds coming from the gym were like an ordinary basketball game: tennis shoes squeaking against slippery ground, the thud of a ball, the shrill whistle of a referee.
But inside was a rare painting. Older women, some in their 80s and 90s, scrambled to pass, steal and shoot. They dribbled and weaved skillfully as they sprinted to the basket.
Kirsten Cummings, a former professional basketball player, recalled the first time she walked into this YMCA in San Diego’s Mission Valley neighborhood.
“There’s this group of women playing and I was so mesmerized by them. They were 75,” Cummings told me. “I had goosebumps.”
It’s the San Diego Senior Women’s Basketball Association, one of the largest leagues in the country for women 50 and over. The second largest city in California is home to several senior sports teams and host the San Diego Senior Gameswhich attracts thousands of competitors from across the state each year for an Olympic-style event.
“We’re very outdoors, fitness oriented, 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.”
On a recent Sunday morning, I chatted on the sideline of the YMCA field with Marge Carl, who has played in the women’s league since its inception in the mid-1990s.
Carl, now 92, wore a blue jersey to match his bright eyes. His team, the splashwhich is aimed at women aged 80 and over, had to compete in 45 minutes.
The league features 75 women in 13 teams, grouped roughly by skill level, which compete every Sunday. Matches are three-on-three for 30 minutes on half court.
Carl, like most women here, came of age before Title IX, the Civil Rights Act of 1972 that dramatically increased opportunities for women participate in school sports. She didn’t learn to play basketball until she was 60.
But that’s kind of his style. She graduated from college in her seventh decade. She retired well into her 80s.
Carl pointed to his temple and warned me, “It doesn’t die unless you let it.”
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Basketball league newbies learn how to keep and bounce 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 older women’s desire to improve. Once, she slept during practice and was scolded by an octogenarian 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 nice old ladies. No, they’re serious senior athletes.
The league also counteracts the slow progression of loneliness that accompanies aging.
Carl told me that 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 find themselves on the court several times a week. Players have officiated at each other’s weddings and taken trips together.
Carl nodded to a younger woman who was lacing up her sneakers. This year, she drove Carl to his Covid-19 vaccination appointments.
“They are the brotherhood,” Carl told me.
Currently, the league’s oldest member 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 balance sheet of aging is rendered in relief on the ground.
Marianne Hall, 86, was coaching women’s basketball in high school when Title IX was being rolled out. But she hadn’t played on a team herself until the 1990s, when her friend told her about San Diego’s new league.
“I don’t jump anymore,” Hall recalled.
“None of us are jumping,” the woman replied.
When 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, was wearing her headband and swimsuit this Sunday morning. She was ready to play.
At noon, the women rushed onto the field for the next match, between Hall’s and Carl’s teams.
The players, many of whom wore masks, quickly passed the ball between them. Some tried to intercept and block the shots.
Within minutes, Carl had the ball. She lifted her arms and pushed them towards the basket.
If you read a story, make it this one
Late Tuesday night, NASA launched a new mission: crash into an asteroid, defend planet Earth.
where we travel
Today’s travel tip – or rather 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) I 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 picnic in the nearby vineyards
3) I loved visiting Pasadena – San Marino and its beautiful gardens
4) Palm Desert – especially at night
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 CAtoday@nytimes.com. We will share more in future editions of the newsletter.
What we recommend
Our 100 remarkable books of 2021.
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And before leaving, some good news
Three Humboldt County students have been selected to play in the Indigenous Bowl, an annual football game honoring 60 of the top Native American high school football players.
Darvin Davis IV, a student at Hoopa High School and a member of the Yurok Tribe, said Local coastal outpost that he looked forward to meeting other young Aboriginal players from across the country. The game will take place in Minneapolis on December 5.
“That’s the most exciting part about it,” Davis said. “To meet and play with new people and to create new brothers and bonds that I will never forget.”