Hitting The Court

Northwest Valley men bounce their way to good health

BY Eric Newman

Bill Irwin is 86 years old and, admittedly, one of the most competitive men on the basketball court at Villa Nueva Center in Surprise.

He’s the longest-tenured member of the men’s basketball team, founded around 1995 by a Sun City Rec Center director. Always looking for new members, the men use the sport to keep in shape.

Basketball can be played at a frantic pace at its highest level. But it also can be a game slowed down to the fundamentals. A clean jump shot never quite leaves a player’s repertoire, and a solid pass to a teammate is always useful on the court.

“Even some of the guys who can’t move around well can still play. There are other things they can do on the court,” Irwin says.

The ages range from 59 to 86. The tallest player is 6-foot-6 and Irwin is the shortest at 5-foot-8.

“Everyone else is in their 60s and 70s and maybe played in college or high school,” Irwin says. “Some of them are very good.”

Basketball is also a simple game, making it easy for those who want to just show up and play.

“All you need is the ball, a few people, and a hoop, and you’re ready to go,” says player Randy Becker, 72. “But Bill is incredible. When he runs with the ball, you can’t get around him. He’s a good defender.”

The league’s games are enjoyable and great for cardiovascular exercise. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day, and only 1 in 3 receives the recommended amount of physical activity each week.

The same report says 35% to 44% of adults ages 75 or older are physically active, and 28% to 34% of adults ages 65 to 74 are physically active.

Irwin and his teammates get together from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays to play pickup games.

“I’m the only one who’s a member of the original group,” he says. “I enjoy it thoroughly. I played intramural basketball when I joined the Air Force.

“I didn’t play it for a long time until I moved here in 1995 from Connecticut. I played a lot with some of the young guys, but it got to the point I couldn’t keep up, so I wanted to play with people like me.”

There’s no cost to join, but the organization does pay Surprise Rec Center $50 per person per year for use of the gym.

Keeping in shape

Irwin says it’s nice to have an activity to look forward to throughout the week—especially one keeping people moving.

“It keeps a lot of us active,” he says. “We’re all getting older, but when you have something like this you don’t feel like it for a little bit.”

The league plays competitive games, but all skill levels are welcome as are folks with different physical abilities. They keep score, but the players are more concerned with getting a good workout and simply having fun.

The players are sometimes several decades apart in age and athletic ability. At one point in a game Lovin’ Life After 50 attended, Irwin was on the court with a man nearly 30 years his junior. The group makes a concerted effort to make even teams for a competitive and fair game, if possible. The players also cheer each other on, slapping hands for a made shot, or throwing in some friendly smack talk on a solid defensive play.

The group meets to play hoops, but there’s a social aspect to the league as well. Many of the men at a weekend game slapped hands-on good shots and seemed to be comfortable laughing and enjoying their time together.

“You get to know everyone because a lot of people when they come the first time, become regulars if they like it. So, it’s a great way to meet others and get out of the house,” Irwin says.

The league is looking for additional members, as commitments and other issues sometimes get in the way.

“It’s a unique group, you don’t always get the word out very easily. So, we always want to do what we can to get into newspapers and online, so people can find us,” Becker says.

Games are played regularly at various outdoor courts throughout the area. Becker, who heads the league’s membership push, can be reached at 502-298-5264.