A Granny Basketball tale

Lessons learned from taking on the "grannies"

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Editor’s note: A “forever 29” 66-year-old from Cedar Rapids, David Novak is an avid recreational athlete who cross country skis in the winter and shoots hoops in a church basketball league when he’s not working in the prairies and woodlands. The grannies encourage him because they’re ordinary people who perfect their craft to an extraordinary level. 

A blurb in the paper noted “the grannies” were playing basketball at the Norway gym on a Sunday afternoon, raising funds for the Veterans Park.

My wife, Andrea, and I decided to check it out.

Sure enough, there they were warming up when we arrived, working the crowd to recruit players brave enough to challenge them.

You guessed it — I was one of the recruits.

Any comment about just coming to watch was drowned out by introducing me to my teammates — three men about my age and three women in their 20s.

Grannies play teams from around the country. The national tournament was later that week and they were fretting a bit about a strong defense played by a Louisiana outfit.

It’s unsafe to ask a woman her age, but someone said one of the grannies was 92 and been playing for years. Broadly speaking, most touched the time scale around 60 or so — or so, or so.

The rules, from the 1920s, noted each team has two guards, one center court passer and two forwards, each occupying a third of the court. Only two dribbles are allowed, then you pass or shoot. There is no jumping allowed when shooting — your feet always are touching the floor. Three inches is as close as you can get to another player. There is no hovering or physical contact. Three fouls and you’re out. Anyone under 40 shoots with their non-dominant hand.

Seeing the glaze over our eyes, the grannies played an eight-minute exhibition quarter to show us how the game is played. It looked simple enough, which should have been a red flag.

Spectators and players sang the national anthem and it might as well have been the Super Bowl as I quickly scanned the eyes of the grannies — clear, focused and confident. They already knew how the game would end.

On my first three shots, the ball had barely left my hand when the ref whistled that I had jumped. Wanting to redeem myself, I blocked a shot and, again, the ref’s whistle sounded, this time for hovering and moving closer than three inches.

The women on our team were bewildered trying to shot with their opposite hand while the men looked at the 100 spectators in the bleachers and wanted so much to be there. Coach benched me after my second foul, which was a gift really. Can you imagine fouling out by hack-a-shacking somebody’s grandmother?

Many pictures were taken. Too many. We could only pray for mercy.

And all the while, the grannies were piling on the points with hardly a bead of sweat among them. These ladies knew this game and how to play the rules. They knew what mattered and respected who they were playing.

Let’s just say I don’t remember the final score. But as we lined up and shook hands with the ladies, I was reminded each of us finds what we need when we need it. On a Sunday afternoon in a small Iowa town, playing the grannies was a cure for what ails you.

After the game, we drove to the Amana Colonies for ice cream. Strawberry cheesecake goes well with humble pie.

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