The Granny Basketball League consists of more than 450 players on 40 teams across nine states — primarily in the Midwest — who take part in a program for women ages 50 and older who are interested in playing “a gentle game for women of a certain age,” according to the site. Played in teams of six, players cannot run or jump — though they are encouraged to “hurry” — and there is no physical contact. The game, played true to traditional 1920s-era basketball rules, philosophy and culture, was created to ensure safety of older players while still fostering a competitive, team-based setting.
“Our oldest player in the league recently turned 90 years old,” says Michele Clark, deputy director of the Granny Basketball League. “Younger gals who are joining the fun likely have had more opportunity to play basketball in their youth, but not all did. For the older gals, some did not have a local girls’ basketball program available so never had a chance to play, or some might have had a few intramural games. Meanwhile, some lucky players had a robust basketball experience growing up in their local communities. Our league brings together people of all abilities. What’s nice about the old-style, six-on-six rules of Granny Basketball is that nearly anyone can play.”
Clark, who began playing in Missouri and subsequently brought the league to Kansas when she moved to the Topeka area, says its implementation in Kansas could not have happened without the help of the local park and recreation department staff. “I approached Lawrence Parks and Recreation, and they connected me with Gayle Sigurdson,” says Clark. “We conducted a series of learn-to-play events in summer of 2015. That fall, we formed our very first Kansas Granny Basketball team.”
According to Gayle Sigurdson, lifelong recreation programmer for Lawrence Parks and Recreation, one of the benefits of the league is the inclusivity of the program. “Granny Basketball emphasizes safety in a competitive environment, expanding the number of people to which it appeals,” says Sigurdson. “I have shared the opinion with people that the 1920s rules we play by were not fair to young female athletes but are perfect for older adults.”
And, Clark says, one of the best aspects of the league are the connections built. “You think you’re just going to be playing basketball,” says Clark, “but what you don’t realize is how many friends you’re going to make, how much fun you’re going to have and all of the unique opportunities that you’ll have.” One of the connections Clark has made through her experience with the league is Sigurdson. “Gayle is a tall lady, and she’d never played basketball before. If you saw her, you wouldn’t think that would be the case. But, she’s now our team captain, and she’s wonderful. She’s very inclusive and a great communicator. In fact, she’s bubbled up as our lead coordinator with all of our Kansas teams.”
The benefits don’t stop at the participating individuals. “I think the whole community has benefitted from Granny Basketball,” says Sigurdson. “The older community includes players, but also fans who are energized by watching their peers compete. Our children, grandchildren and student athlete volunteers see role models that may change their views of aging.”
Lindsay Collins is the Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.