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A league of their own

Posted: August 18th, 2017 | Features, Health & Fitness, Lifestyle, Top Stories | No Comments

By Jess Winans

Senior women’s basketball offers fun, exercise, sisterhood

Michael Jordan has his own shoe, Maria Sharapova has a premium line of gummy candies and if you’re a Splash team member of the San Diego Senior Women’s Basketball Association (SWBA), you have Miracle Whip.

Splash is an SWBA team for players over 80 years old that has been featured by ESPN, NBC, The Huffington Post, Yahoo News and endorsed by Miracle Whip — an endorsement which they said “comes with a side of potato salad” on their Facebook page.

(l to r) Splash show off the basketballs provided by their sponsor, Miracle Whip: Joann Janson, Marge Carl, Fran Styles, Grace Larsen, Nina Duncan, Jean Feild, Cory Thomson, Meg Skinner. (Courtesy Miracle Whip)

This summer, Team Splash, along with other SWBA teams, competed in the National Senior Women’s Games in Birmingham, Alabama, where they placed fourth in their age division.

All of this media attention is new for the players, much like basketball itself was new for 91-year-old Meg Skinner, a Splash player, when she founded the SWBA.

“We want a lot of women to find out that they can play basketball later in life without waiting until they’re 67 like I did,” said Skinner, who lives in Tierrasanta.“One of our Splash team members didn’t play until she was 78 and she’s one of our best players now.”

In founding the league, Skinner had some help getting started.

She was playing in a California Senior Olympics tennis tournament in 1992 when she was approached by David Hall, founder of the YMCA Senior Olympics, about starting a senior women’s basketball team.

Although Skinner had never played basketball before, she arrived at the Mission Valley YMCA on the following Wednesday dressed and ready to play. To her surprise, however, no one else showed up.

Skinner went back to the gym again the following Wednesday, and a third Wednesday, this time met by Gen Kessler and Willie Merriman, and the SWBA had its founding members.

The trio began recruiting new association members by using local media. One of their new recruits Jackie Ives, who had never played basketball before, was photographed on the front cover of the San Diego Union in 1995 in an article that helped them grow from one team of three to the 15 to 17 teams comprised of 136 members they have today.

SWBA members from all age groups play a pick-up game at the Mission Valley YMCA on Wednesday, Aug. 9. (Photo by Jess Winans)

“I saw a beautiful writeup in the San Diego Union in 1995 showing some of the ladies looking like they were having a good time and they mentioned a meeting to form some teams and a league,” said association member Lynnea Seidlinger, 77, from Del Cerro. “I zipped down from Solana Beach and went to that meeting and it just looked like it was going to be for me and so I joined. I’ve been bouncing around the court ever since.”

Teams in the SWBA play half court, three-on-three games, practice individually throughout the week, hold pickup games on Wednesdays and Fridays, and compete within the association on Thursdays and Sundays. They say they only have two rules besides the membership fee: You must be at least 50 years old and of course, want to play.

That’s right, no previous experience playing basketball is needed to play.

“I was like 60 years old when I started playing,” said Marianne Hall, 85 from Rolando. “It wasn’t until then that I started to do the things I should’ve done when I was in my teens.”

Hall was active in the organized girls sports movement during the pre-Title IX era and was a physical education teacher before retiring. While she loved physical education classes and was active in her youth, she was unable to play on a traditional team because they simply did not exist at the time.

“I’m reliving a part of my life that is offering me opportunities I was never able to do back then many years ago,” Hall said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have good health and still do it and love it.”

The association has teams for every five year age increment following 50 and the final team — Splash — is for players 80 and up, which provides a life-long membership for many of it’s members.

“I’ve talked to all of the sisters from different ages and we always sit and try to figure out who we’re going to be when we get to Splash,” said Sharon Taylor, 53. “We say things like ‘I can’t wait to be Meg or Jackie or whoever.’”

For these ladies, SWBA membership is so much more than an outlet to play basketball. They go out together, have parties at their homes, go to the movies together, and truly share a sister-like bond.

Grace Larsen being interviewed by ESPN for “Foudy’s Find” (Facebook)

“I’m the youngest of four and I have one sister. Here, I have a whole lot of sisters,” said Taylor. “When we go to nationals, it’s not one team goes and you forget about the other team. When we go, every team plays and we follow to see what our sisters are doing and support them. When we go to nationals and people see San Diego and see us — you see the sisterhood. When we enter, you see us as a whole family.”

Something else that differentiates the SWBA and Splash from other basketball associations and teams is their rookie program. As a new member or first-time player, you can enroll in the rookie program to learn how to play three-on-three half-court basketball from other SWBA members.

“It’s been really cool to see women who have never played get the passion for it they’ve never had,” said Di Meredith, director of the SWBA. “To see someone come in and get the bug, they are like hungry, they’re like sponges — they soak it up. They’re really coachable and that’s a cool program that they started with that. You don’t have to be a star.”

Also as a way to give back to the community, SWBA has registered as a nonprofit and they have a scholarship program to send young girls with financial need to summer basketball camps.

“We get thank-you notes from girls who have gone to the camps saying they’re really excited and want to go to college and get their grades up and everything because of the college camps we send them to,” Meredith said.

SWBA uses grant money and, most recently, money from endorsements, for their scholarship program which interested parties can apply for at swba.us.com.

Senior women interested in joining the SWBA can apply online at tinyurl.com/y9rltznw or swing by one of their practices or games.

“When you see them in the gym, and you feel it for yourself, you’re going to be like ‘Wow, I’m going to do this for the rest of my life,’” Taylor said. “It makes you move. It goes in your bones and you just can’t let it go.”

—Jess Winans is an intern at San Diego Community News Network. You can reach her at jessicamwinans@gmail.com.

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