About 20 years ago, Marcia Chute picked up a basketball and helped form the Pioneers, the first senior women’s basketball team in Maine. Now 71, Marcia is still going strong – and she’s not alone. She’s one of 51 women over age 55 who gather to play the game they love on courts all over the state.
The Pioneers include eight enthusiastic women plus two helpers. Four of them—Marcia, Claudia Lackee, Eve Abreau, and Beverly MacLean—are Martin’s Point Generations Advantage members. They practice Tuesday evenings throughout the year at the Memorial Middle School gym in South Portland. And they tip off against other senior opponents—there are nine teams in Maine alone—occasionally playing teams from nearby states. The action culminates at the Maine Senior Games, held annually for adults over 45 and sponsored by Martin’s Point Health Care. There’s also a chance for those 50+ to qualify for national competition every two years.
Most of the Pioneers loved sports as young girls, and played whatever they could. “We didn’t have many choices back then, maybe two sports a year,” explains Claudia, 78, who played for the Pioneers for 15 years and still comes to help at every practice.
“I loved basketball and football, but I worked all through high school, so I couldn’t play sports,” adds Eve, 76.
On-court sport means more now than ever
Playing basketball as a senior is a bit different. In the 70+ category, the game is played half-court, three on three, with two 15-minute halves. But it’s just as fun and even more meaningful.
“Seventy is the new 50,” says Jo Dill, a Pioneer player and manager of the Maine Senior Games. “It’s wonderful to be able to compete at this age.”
“Your body says hey, you can’t do the same things you could at age 16,” says Marcia. “But your mind says, oh yes, you can!”
Is it risky? “I get hurt more off the court than on,” says Marcia, who broke an ankle last year out walking, and then hurt a shoulder this year after tripping and falling at an airport. “On the court I’m just fine,” she says.
In fact, they find basketball benefits both body and mind. “I exercise more now, because I want to stay in shape for the game,” says Eve. “And my brain is definitely stimulated because there’s always so much to learn.”
On or off the court, there’s no shortage of support when bad luck strikes. “No one gets hurt without the entire team rallying around them,” says Claudia. “I live alone, and, when I was injured, I had more support than I can convey.”
The camaraderie they feel as a team means more now than it did when the women were teens. “This feels like a family. That sounds cliché but it’s really true,” says Eve. The women also gather socially a couple of times a year for dinners, a Christmas party, and of course, to talk strategy before nationals.
Going for gold
To say the Pioneers are competitive would be understating things. This year’s goal is nothing less than a gold medal at nationals, which will be held in Albuquerque in June. The team won bronze in 2015, and placed fifth in a field of 16 competitive teams in 2017. This year, they expect a challenge from at least 14 teams from all over the country.
Score aside, they know they’ll find loads of inspiration at the National Games. “Playing at Stanford in 2009 was amazing,” said Claudia. “Most of the events were right on campus, so you could watch lots of competition.” The women were thrilled to be among the 10,000 athletes over age 50 playing the sports they love, from former Olympians to 100-year-old swimmers. “It was just mind boggling,” added Marcia.
Players pay their own way for tournaments and chip in at every practice to help cover their coach’s expenses.
“It’s worth every penny,” says Beverly, 69. She sums up her experience this way: “It keeps us young.” And, if you saw her killer outside shot, you’d know there’s nothing more true.