Senior women stay fit playing hoops

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Updated Mon. Jan. 15 2007 8:26 AM ET

Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — Playing basketball isn’t ladylike. That’s what Jewell Chapman’s high school principal told her in 1961 when he banned the girls basketball program.
“We were very frustrated,” said Chapman, a forward for her high school team in Des Moines.
Nearly 50 years later, Chapman is back on the court. She’s 62 and plays for the Hot Pink Grannies, joining about 10 other women on a team whose uniforms are black bloomers and hot pink socks. They play in the Iowa Granny Basketball League.
It’s one of dozens of basketball leagues for women over 50 that have sprung up across the country. For some, it’s an opportunity to exercise and socialize; for others, it’s a once-denied chance to compete.
“You see more and more senior women’s teams participating in state and national competitions and more recreational leagues,” said Michael Rogers (news, bio, voting record), an associate professor in sports studies at Wichita State University. “In the future it will be commonplace to have leagues like this.”
Annual surveys by the National Sporting Goods Association indicate the number of women 55 and older who play basketball at least 50 times a year has grown from 16,000 in 1995 to nearly 131,000 a decade later.
The women on the Hot Pink Grannies are good-natured but competitive come game time.
“I think I’m tough,” says Hot Pink Granny Colleen Pulliam, 69, flexing her biceps at opponents in a game against the Strutters, known for their brilliant yellow socks.
Seconds later, she dives for the ball as it slips from a player’s hand and tosses it over her head to the forward waiting under the basket.
Granny Basketball Leagues and similar groups are scattered through much of the country, including California, Connecticut, Louisiana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
It’s part of a larger movement toward organized sports by older Americans, said Dr. Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, head of the kinesiology department at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
“Gradually, as the boomers grow older we’re going to have a cohort of people who have the expectation of remaining active,” said Chodzko-Zajko, who studies aging and physical activity. “And a majority of those people are going to want to do that in competitive sport.”
Unlike men, however, middle-aged women who want to play have had to create their own leagues catering to a range of players: from older women who haven’t hit the court in decades to women who led their teams to tournaments in the post-Title IX era. That 1972 ruling forced public schools to offer equal athletic programs for males and females.
About 500 women from 47 states competed in basketball at the 2005 National Senior Games in Pittsburgh. And in response to growing interest by women, the formerly all-male Masters Basketball-National Championship will for the first time offer a women’s competition at its May event in Coral Springs, Fla.
The movement to basketball among older women is exciting but not surprising to Audrey Pastore, who established the Senior Women’s Basketball Association of San Diego in 1998. Today, her league has about 100 members who play three-on-three games on 18 teams. Three of those teams won gold medals at the 2005 National Senior Games.
“It’s going to get bigger and bigger,” said Pastore, 66.
There are even basketball camps for women 50 and older.

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