Basket Cases

Hoop dreams come true for women over 50

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1st row, left to right: Linda Bierman, Diana London, and Carol Kaplan. 2nd row, left to right: Jerilyn Horing, Judy Wukitsch, Eileen Julian, and Jackie Dowd. 3rd row, left to right: Stephanie Metz, Alison Ziegler, and Alberto Medina.
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1st row, left to right: Linda Bierman, Diana London, and Carol Kaplan. 2nd row, left to right: Jerilyn Horing, Judy Wukitsch, Eileen Julian, and Jackie Dowd. 3rd row, left to right: Stephanie Metz, Alison Ziegler, and Alberto Medina.
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Photos by Alan Weiner

About 12 years ago, Diana London got an idea while at her Hoboken neighborhood’s annual Christmas party. Why, she wondered, when we get older do we stop having fun?

“Why do we stop playing?” she asks. “We all brought up kids and were so careful to make sure that they experienced soccer, softball, basketball, all these wonderful activities, but we stopped playing ourselves. We gave up on ourselves.”

Well, Diana put a stop to that when she posted this classified ad in the paper:

“Midlife basketball? Join us. We’re a group of older women from about 45 to 75(!) who have a ridiculously good time playing VERY gentle basketball, half-court. Why should the kids have all the fun? No experience necessary, just a playful spirit. We play at the Multi-Service Center, 2nd and Grand Street on Wednesday nights, 9 to 10PM starting up again this Fall. If interested contact DianaLondonNJ@aol.com.”

Diana is not sure why she chose basketball over other sports; maybe because you could play year-round inside. She started asking women if they would consider playing. Some said, no way, their knees or their feet couldn’t handle it. She took the names of the ones who said yes, they would love it, and made an announcement at another neighborhood block party.

Ladies in Waiting

Next, Diana had to find a place to play. The local schools weren’t a good bet because there were too many insurance issues. Then she tried the city recreation department. “They looked at me like I was crazy and didn’t want to give me the space,” she recalls.

She knew that the multi-service center was open to the public. “Kids used it for clubs, and the cheerleaders were there every night,” she remembers.

They finally landed the fashionably late 9-10 p.m. slot, playing half-court because there was a tai chi group on the other half. “We were making a lot of noise during these beautiful Asian exercises,” she laughs. Soon, the tai chi folks left, and they had the use of the full court.

Now there are about 12 players, ranging in age from about 45 to 78.

The younger women appreciated the late time slot, so they could get their kids squared away before hitting the court. It didn’t matter how many showed up. “If we get four people, we play two on two,” Diana says. “We’re always happy when we play. We have so much fun. Even though we might not feel like it, when we do go, we never regret it.”

Golden Girls

Carol Kaplan is one of the original members. “I love it,” she says. “It gets us out exercising with fun gals. We welcome new members to join us for a great time, and beginners are welcome.”

She hasn’t always been a jock. “I wasn’t really interested in sports way back in high school, but I said, let’s give it a try.”

Ten years later, she’s given it more than a try. “I had knee replacement surgery in 2017,” she says, “and was back on the court within six months.”

She’s 75.

Eileen Julian was a jock. She played basketball in high school and college. “I never thought I’d play again,” she says. “I broke my finger the first season. I was pretending I was 21.”

Some of the women had never played. “There are all levels of ability,” Eileen says. “Some people double dribble. I try to explain, but they still do it in the heat of the game.”

But she’s the first to admit that no one cares. “The best part about it is that we all enjoy the camaraderie. We help each other and teach each other. It’s no big deal if we win or lose.”

Eileen is 79 and expects to play into her nineties.

Kids at Heart

“Running the full court with all your might, you feel like a child gain,” Diana says. But she does exercise caution.

“We’re careful with each other. I’m the mother hen: ‘Watch it, calm down.’ I’m very aware. Though it’s nothing remotely serious, I broke a finger in two places.”

They’re not headed to the WNBA anytime soon. “We really are terrible,” she admits. “Truly, anyone can play this game. We’re noncompetitive, just having fun.”

For a short while they had a coach who basically just reffed the game, so that didn’t last.

Diana, who worked for a number of TV networks as a reporter and producer, says she was never a jock as a kid. “I never played sports,” she says, “but I became a basketball fan during the Jordan years. I loved to watch him. We play an uncomplicated version of the game.”

She’s in her mid-60s now and shows no signs of abandoning her beloved sport.

“It makes you feel free,” she says. “It’s a great feeling.”—Kate Rounds