It’s another two weeks before girls basketball tryouts at Winchester High School, but on this Saturday morning all eight half-courts in the gym are full.
To the right, a team of high schoolers in red T-shirts, hand-decorated with fabric paint and glitter, play another high-school team in mismatched gray. To the left, the NOVA Super Sixties from Virginia show off their flashy professionally embroidered blue and reds against the equally spiffy looking Connecticut Sirens in black and white.
In all, 12 seniors teams have come from five different states to compete in the Rock the Ages intergenerational three-on-three tournament. Over the next few hours, they’ll raise money for the girls basketball program at Winchester High and show the younger generation how it’s done.
Tina Quick came up with this idea last year when, as the mother of a varsity captain, she was in charge of helping the team raise money.
“Quite frankly, I got tired of the fundraisers being something that all the parents just showed up to and spent money at all night long,” Tina says. “I thought, well, why don’t I just write you a check?”
Tina plays for the Massachusetts Miracles, a traveling team for women 50 and older. Since graduating high school in the days before Title IX, Tina’s been creating her own opportunities to play basketball.
She sees this tournament not only as a way for the high-school team to raise some cash, but also a way for the girls to learn a little about the history of women’s basketball.
On Court 5, the Golden Cagers are decked out head to toe in orange Syracuse basketball gear, a nod to their hometown: Syracuse, N.Y. Sue Heiss says now, in her 50s, she’s finally living her college dream. But the game is changing as Title Niners age up into the senior ranks.
“You can almost see the break when you see the over-50s play,” Sue says. “They have a different mentality on the court and a different ability because they had all that coaching.”
While the oldest member of the Golden Cagers is 60, not a single member of the Connecticut High Fives is younger than 67. Mary Berlin, the oldest player at this tournament, turns 71 next month.
The High Fives often face younger opponents, but, Mary said, playing alongside junior high and high schoolers is an experience unique to this tournament.
“They’ve been coached all their lives and they’ve got moves and good stuff,” Mary says.
Even the team names reflect the generations. While the sixth graders call themselves by whimsical names like the Pink Dinosaurs and the Purple Monkeys, the senior teams gravitate toward Moxie and Quick Silver.
Marissa McDonald and her team won the high-school age bracket, and she’s stayed behind to watch the senior women play.
“I think it’s awesome,” Marissa says. “They’re all in knee braces and everything, but they’re still out there playing and they’re loving life. It’s good times.”
At the first Rock the Ages tournament, there wasn’t a whole lot of interaction between the younger and older players. So, as the senior women rest between games, the high schoolers wander the gym offering each of them a red carnation.
For the flower, the girls get a little conversation. They chit-chat about the upcoming high-school tryouts. They hear stories about traveling to senior tournaments and the National Seniors Games. But the high schoolers learn the most from watching the older women play.
The senior women don’t reach gingerly for the ball, they dive after it. Their fouls are deliberate — and hard. When an opponent tries to snatch the ball away, they hang on for dear life.
Jo Lannon of the Maine Flashes says anyone who expects the senior women to play a polite, dainty game is in for a shock.
“Certainly when we played in high school it wasn’t as physical,” Jo admits. “So when we started playing as 50-year-olds, I think that was part of the game we had to learn all over again.”
The Connecticut High Fives have been playing together for 10 years, practicing every week and traveling for tournaments. It can take a toll.
“Tomorrow we’ll probably all get up with a few aches and pains,” Phyllis Sarafin says. “But we don’t stop. We just keep going.”
As the buzzer sounds on another narrow High Fives victory, Phyllis and her teammates gather for smiles and hugs in the middle of the court. Tomorrow there will be aches and pains, but Phyllis says finishing this tournament undefeated will make it a little easier to get out of bed.
“Absolutely. Much easier,” Phyllis beams. “That was fun!”
This piece originally aired on Only A Game, Nov. 21.