The year was 1940.
Eight-year-old Georgia Jones of English Valleys watched in awe as her older sister’s basketball team competed in the state tournament and placed fourth. It was then Jones unearthed her dream, aspiring that one day, she too would have her to chance to shine on the basketball court in the state tournament.
When Jones reached middle school, she began playing basketball and continued to pursue a career throughout high school. However, as is quintessential to life, events did not play out in a way for which Jones had yearned. Her team never made it to state, leaving her dream unfulfilled. Never again would Georgia Jones have the opportunity to compete in the state basketball tournament.
Or at least that’s what she thought until five years ago.
Enter Granny Basketball. Founded in 2005 by Iowa native Barb Tomlinson-Trammell, Granny Basketball has become a way for women 50 years of age and older to engage in fun, competitive exercise while at the same time serving as an avenue for charitable giving and preserving the history of six-player basketball.
Granny Basketball abides by the 1920’s rules, meaning there is no running, no jumping and no physical contact of any kind to prevent injuries.
“I came up with the idea when my dad was telling me about the first girls’ basketball game he ever saw,” Tomlinson said. “At that time the rules were different because they didn’t think women could tolerate strenuous exercise very well, so the rules were no running, jumping or touching. I thought ‘well heck, I could do that’ and then with the help of some friends the idea came to life.”
In 2011 Jones and her husband attended a parade in Harpers Ferry where they witnessed a Granny Basketball team marching among the procession. Jones was immediately enamored with the concept.
“I hollered out and said I want to do that,” Jones said. “Afterward I just talked to different people around and my niece is the dance teacher at Waukon and she knew one of the Lansing players and she said you need to get ahold of this person, so I did.”
At the time the Harpers Ferry team was just trying to get players started, so the Lansing team told Jones if she wanted to play she needed to go play in Harpers Ferry. That’s what she did.
Granny Basketball now is a national event, with more than 200 players on 24 teams in more than eight states including Iowa, Washington, Missouri, Kansas, Minnesota, Louisiana, Texas and Virginia.
As for Jones, who just turned 70 in June, she is coming off her fifth year with the Harpers Ferry Fireflies. On top of that, she is not only a state champ, but a national titlist, too.
The team was led to the national championship game in Tennessee by their coach Bill Nation. Nation has coached the Harpers Ferry team since the very beginning and when he isn’t coaching basketball he is refereeing it. Before beginning his career as a coach, Nation played basketball in high school and in the Navy.
“I love coaching this team,” he said. “It’s just incredible. Watching the gals out there having so much fun and getting along so well is incredible. It’s so much different than men’s basketball and pro basketball. The gals are just doing it for the joy of doing it.”
The sentiments Nation expressed toward his team seem to be mutual.
“He’s really funny, weird sense of humor,” Jones said. “All of his girls love him to death.
“We tend to give him a hard time and he just takes it so well. It’s kind of like having 16 wives picking on you and having to deal with that over and over again. He has such a way of looking at basketball and because he also referees he sees a lot of the other teams play. He knows what their weak spots are, who their best shooters are, who we need to watch out for and if wasn’t for him we probably wouldn’t have anything near the success that we have because we wouldn’t have the knowledge of the other teams.”
That knowledge, combined with the talent of the Harpers Ferry Fireflies, was what led the team to win the national championship and helped Jones to fulfill her dream.
“This has just been a dream come true for me,” she said. “My kids and my grandkids and my husband have been so supportive of me and I have a letter from one of my grandsons who donated money when we went to the national tournament. He wrote that he would gladly give me the money because he was so proud to have a grandma that was still capable of doing those things. I thought I cannot believe that I can still get to these places and get to fulfill something that was my dream when I was a 15 year old when I’m seventy and that’s pretty amazing.”
You can see some of the winners in action at the Silver Games event Friday at the Clear Creek Amana High School gym in Tiffin. Grannies from the Late Bloomers and Fireflies, plus several other local teams, will play a demonstration game at 12:30. Then they will take on local players. Bring your tennis shoes and you might have a chance to play.
The team also will be in Lansing Saturday for the Lansing Fish Days.
Click here for more information.
Click here for more information, or contact Bill Nation (563) 586-2708.