June 30, 2022


Made By Sports

Waco ‘granny’ basketball team dribbling to keep in shape, have fun | Local News

They were locked in combat, these bitter rivals. Forget Celtics-Lakers at Boston Garden. This was Six Shooters versus Fire Ants at the South Waco Community Center. It turned bloody early. Power forward Judy Hanes, 77, a prolific scorer, clutched her right index finger and slumped to the court.

It was all downhill for the plucky Fire Ants from Georgetown. Try as they might, Hanes’ teammates could not replace her 20 points-per-game average, her tough defense — though no touching is allowed in “granny” basketball — and her esprit de corps. Their mood sagged lower than their black bloomers as Hanes received medical attention and a ride to the hospital.

Any wonder they fell to the Waco Six Shooters, 54-39, in a game not really that close. Fears that Hanes suffered a broken bone or ruptured tendon on her drive to the basket proved unfounded. She has returned to action, bolstered by get-well wishes and warm cookies from friends and foes alike.

Granny basketball

The Waco Six Shooters’ Kay Wilson, who got the Waco team started, makes a pass in a recent game against the Georgetown Fire Ants.

Welcome to life in the senior circuit, where every game is an old-timers game and players give new meaning to the word dribble. They execute the pick-and-roll to perfection, just can’t roll as fast as they once did. All joking aside, the games are fun to watch. Some of these grannies can light up the scoreboard. Their shooting touch rivals Steph Curry’s. They don’t trash talk. They shout encouraging words and huddle to plot strategy.

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Not that these 50-and-older competitors are weak sisters.

“She’s kinda rowdy. You don’t want to tick her off. She’ll whip you,” said Mike Skinner, 72, a rodeo team roper from Axtell. He grinned and motioned toward the Six Shooters’ No. 12, a pistol named Nancy Queen. This was Skinner’s first exposure to granny basketball, but a friend sitting with him in the stands knew the game inside and out, and had a rooting interest in Queen.

Skinner seconded the suggestion a concession stand would have greatly enhanced the setting, but otherwise enjoyed himself.

Granny basketball

The Waco Six Shooters squad poses before their game with the Georgetown Fire Ants.

Granny basketball is catching on locally. The league has expanded to four teams, the Harker Heights Old Glories the most recent addition, joining the Fire Ants, Six Shooters and the Round Rock Rockettes. Women 50 and older may don jerseys. Most have enjoyed exposure to basketball in high school or in sponsored leagues. A select few played the sport in college.

Linda Toerper, a player and coach with the Fire Ants, remembers her glory days on the hardwood back in Iowa. She played six-on-six basketball in high school before enrolling at Drake University in Des Moines. Like many colleges of that era, Drake had no women’s basketball program. Toerper said she played on a squad sponsored by now defunct Look Magazine.

She brought her love for basketball with her when she moved to Georgetown, joining a daughter who left Washington, D.C., for warmer weather.

No, Toerper did not steady the peach basket James Naismith nailed into place. But she has been around long enough to have witnessed the evolution of granny basketball and its niche in sport. The Granny Basketball League website credits Barb McPherson Trammell with its founding in 2005. Trammell, whose father coached girls’ basketball in the 1940s and 1950s, raised money playing exhibition basketball to save a historic building from destruction.

That drama unfolded in Lansing, Iowa, which became a hotbed for granny basketball. The league grew to more than 450 players on 40 teams in 9 states: Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, the website says.

“The league’s stated philosophy mission and purpose is “As empowered women of the 21st Century, we seek to promote a spirit of camaraderie, a model of sportsmanship and friendly competition. In doing so, we honor those women who came before us and set an example for those who will follow.”

The league also encourages each team to designate a charity to support and to engage in fundraising activities.

Granny basketball

Each team in the Granny Basketball League wears the same traditional uniforms, but their tall socks differentiate them.

Throw-back apparel reflects the league’s culture. Participants would not be caught bricking free throws without their bloomers, middy blouses, and knee-high stockings. Beyond the basics, players must avoid the dreaded “flesh foul” for showing too much skin on legs or upper arms. Violating this technicality draws a technical foul and free throws for the scandalized opponent.

The Granny Basketball League allows no running or jumping. A recliner and a deadly set shot are all that is necessary. Seriously, this rule is another attempt to level the playing surface, to give shorter players a shot against taller players. Players may “hurry,” the rule book states, but running or jumping results in a turnover.

The rule seemingly does not rile the players, who take it in stride. They say it serves as a hedge against nasty injuries that could prove devastating. Hanes’ misfortune occurred not while running or jumping but as she raised the ball, possibly to a shooting position, only to have it slapped by an opponent.

A team consists of five or six women ages 50 or older. The court is divided into three zones, and a player may not move out of her designated area. A game consists of four 8-minute quarters, plus a 4-minute overtime if necessary. The clock stops only for timeouts, free throws and falls.

An underhand shot fetches three points, others two points. A made free throw is worth a single point. It was obvious the Six Shooters and Fire Ants knew their way around a charity stripe. Leather barely rippled twine.

Granny basketball

Referee Rebekah Gilliam, right does a hand check on Nancy Queen and other members of the Waco Six Shooters before their game with Georgetown. Everything from finger nails to jewelry is examined and removed before games to limit the chance of injuries.

Kay Wilson, instrumental in organizing the Six Shooters, said the league’s rules are part of its appeal.

“When I try to draw players in, I always say it’s moderate exercise, maximum fun,” Wilson said. “We make new friends, we get out of the house, participate in team sports and it is, according to the national Granny Basketball League, ‘a gentle sport for women of a certain age’ as we play by 1920s women rules.”

She said an old high school friend who she played basketball with first invited her to practice with a team in Harker Heights.

“After some cajoling, I went to a couple of practices. I loved it. It was so much fun, but I did not want to drive to Harker Heights every week for practice then again for games,” Wilson said. “So in October 2021, I decided to see if I could develop some interest in Waco. I put a notice in the Trib’s ‘Briefly’ column, and five women showed up, so I was pretty sure we could generate enough enthusiasm.”

Granny basketball

The Waco Six Shooters’ Jerry Cunningham makes a pass in the first half of a game with the Georgetown Fire Ants.

That was the beginning of a beautiful team, the Six Shooters.

“Somebody knew somebody who might want to play, and word spread,” Wilson said. “We have a fine team that has won five of seven games in our freshman year. Of course, we always need new recruits because, well, life happens and us women of a certain age also have lives to live.”

Sometimes making it to a game becomes impossible. Anyone interested in helping Wilson pad her roster may email [email protected]

By the way, the 2022 Granny Basketball National Tournament will take place July 29-31 at the Hy-Vee Arena in Kansas City, Missouri.

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