If you’re looking for a Wednesday morning pickup game at the Georgetown Recreation Center, don’t bother. It’s booked solid.
That is, unless you’re at least 55 years of age and female.
In that case, the Granny Basketball League wants you.
“Just place your finger under your nose, and if you’re breathing, you can be a granny,” said Linda Toerper, the coach of the Texas Fire Ants, a Georgetown-based member of the 21-team league that’s looking to expand.
These grannies prefer nets to needlepoint. Buckets over bingo any day.
Toerper, 71, taught in Iowa for 35 years and coached the league’s Cedar Rapids Sizzlers before moving to Georgetown to be closer to her daughter and grandkids.
“Last year I thought, ‘I loved playing the game there, so why not give it a try here?,’ ” Toerper said. “We started out with just a couple of people and gradually grew to our roster of 11 today.”
The league is the brainchild of Iowa resident Barb McPherson, the daughter of a basketball coach. She was as competitive as they came, as was her older sister Linda, the aforementioned current coach of the Fire Ants.
“We played together in high school,” said the 70-year-old McPherson, who coaches the Northeast Iowa Great Dames. “I always remind her that my highest scoring game was 41 points and hers was 39.”
Years after their prep playing days ended, Barb helped her dad Howard Tomlinson write his memoirs. In the process, she realized how much she missed playing basketball. After she organized a women’s tournament as part of a fundraising effort in Lansing in 2005, the idea of a senior women’s league was born.
Ten years later, the Granny Basketball League has 21 teams that play in three divisions. The Eastern and Western Divisions are composed of 12 teams from Iowa and two from Minnesota while the other seven teams play in the Southern Division, which includes the Fire Ants, the Harker Heights Old Glories, three teams from Jefferson City, Mo, one from Virginia, and the Louisiana Crushers, who drove six hours from DeRidder to play the Fire Ants in their inaugural game last May.
In addition to league competition and the national tournament each summer, members of the organization participate in events for charities and non-profit organizations. To date, the non-profit league has raised more than $100,000 for various organizations.
The rules are based on how the game was played in the 1940s and 1950s — six-on-six, with three players on one side of the court for offense and three on the other side for defense. No contact is allowed and the ball is moved mostly by passing since rules prohibit more than two dribbles by one player per possession. No running or jumping is allowed, which brings back the days when girls were prohibited from them for fear they would affect their ability to reproduce. Normal scoring rules apply, except that three points are awarded for making a shot underhanded.
The uniforms are 1920s style with middy blouses, stockings and bloomers. The bloomers are non-negotiable, by the way. No bloomers means a technical foul. A “T” is also assessed if flesh is exposed anywhere except the face, neck, forearms and hands.
Unlike your typical rec league team, it’s sometimes tougher to get everyone together for games or practice. We are talking about grannies, after all. Family obligations pop up — graduations, weddings, travel, etc. — along with the health issues that come with getting up there in years.
“We need to get the word out so we can form more teams,” said 70-year-old Judy Hanes, nicknamed The Ringer by teammates for her ability to dominate. “That would make it easier, especially in Texas because it’s so spread out.”
After watching the Fire Ants scrimmage this week, it was easy to see that Wednesdays are not only about basketball, but about friendship. It was proof that the game is fun from ages 8 to 80, though you might have to amend that last number for Clara German, one of the most popular Fire Ants.
At 81 years young, German is the team’s elder stateswoman. Known for her passing ability and knowledge of the game, Clara finds time to make it to practice while taking care of 90-year-old Cecil, her husband of 60 years. The two have eight kids, 10 grandkids and nine great-grandkids.
“I grew up in Oklahoma and loved playing the game. Still do,” said Clara, who worked as a librarian in Kansas for 27 years. “The best part is competing and spending time with the other grannies.”
Wanna see the Fire Ants in action? Check them out on March 7 against Louisiana and Harker Heights.
Grannies and basketball. Doesn’t get any better than that.
GRANNY BASKETBALL LEAGUE
Founded in 2005, the league has 21 teams in six states with more than 200 players who are 55 or older.
Rules: 6-on-6 on a split court — three players on offense and three players on defense — with four 8-minute quarters. No contact, running or jumping allowed. Maximum of two dribbles per player possession. Underhanded shots count for three points.
Attire: 1920s style — middy blouses, black bloomers, stockings.
Want to join the GBL in Georgetown? Contact Robert Staton, senior recreation program coordinator at (512) 930-1367 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or Linda Toerper, coach of the Texas Fire Ants at (319) 210-5608 or email@example.com. The web site is grannybasketball.com.