Over the weekend, a new sports champion was crowned. No, not Marketa Vondrousova, or any of the Wimbledon winners. We’re talking about the Lady Redbirds of Carlisle, Iowa who took home the trophy at the 2023 National Granny Basketball Championship. They beat out the Harper’s Ferry Fireflies in the championship game yesterday.
Since 2005, teams of women over 50 have been playing regularly in a league for women over age 50. Players follow rules of the women’s game from the 1920s, which are considered gentler for older joints, and even play in the costumes from 100 years ago. It’s all good fun and we love the idea of it, but we kind of hate the name “granny basketball.” It plays into the outrageous notion that women over 50 are on the downslide; it dismisses women of our age as somehow fragile and frail. We know that’s far from the truth—even for those who are actual grandmothers.
Women are staying fit and having fun, so let’s celebrate.
But we won’t be spoil sports here. Women are staying fit and having fun, so let’s celebrate.
“Women are thinking, so what if I’m 50? I can still do this,” Diane Marker, 72, told NPR recently. Marker is the co-captain and coach of the Cedar Rapid Sizzlers.
The Granny Basketball League now consists of 42 teams in 10 states. But started in Iowa with only four–the idea of Barb McPherson Trammell, whose father was a girls’ basketball coach in Iowa in the ’40s and ’50s. As she helping him write his memoirs, he described the first girls game he saw in Bondurant, Iowa, in 1920, including the costumes the girls wore, the three courts and the other rather prissy rules they had to follow back then.
After growing accustomed to the fast-paced style in high school, Agey had to adjust to the Granny rules.
Because Barb was looking for a way to exercise, it finally occurred to her that even at her age she could play by those old rules. So a bunch of her friends got together in 2005 to put on an exhibition game in Lansing, Iowa, to raise money to preserve an old historic building there. Some other towns in the area heard about it and wanted to play, too. So, they ended up with four teams and decided to have a tournament instead of just an exhibition game. More and more towns joined in as media coverage increased.
“It’s kind of fun as we travel to a couple different tournaments and see the teams year-round,” Tammy Agey, who plays for a team based in Des Moines, Iowa, told the Kansas NPR station. “You grow to (appreciate) these friendships from afar.” Agey, one of the younger members on her team, was fortunate enough to play high school basketball sanctioned by the Missouri State High School Activities Association. She remembers fondly her days of basketball glory in Independence, Missouri, when her 1984 St. Mary’s Trojans advanced to the Missouri state basketball semifinals with a 29-0 record.
After growing accustomed to the fast-paced style in high school, Agey had to adjust to the Granny rules aimed at making the game a bit easier: Two players from each team are required to stay in their third of the court.
“Yeah, it was a little transition,” she says. “A lot of learning I had to do in that first year and a half.”
Others, like Kathi Mitchell, didn’t play sanctioned high school sports until Title IX was passed in 1972.
“I was one of those that went every year of my high school years to (Cedar Rapids) school board meetings to appeal for sanctioned women’s teams,” said Mitchell, the national tournament organizer that was held at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, this year.
“In fact, I coached a group of six of us in track and we competed in districts,” she added. “I had a state (qualifying time) … but was not allowed to run because we weren’t a sanctioned team.”
Mitchell got hooked on Granny basketball when she was recruited several years ago by a colleague at Luther College.
“It’s just fun!” Mitchell said. “Not only with the fun, there’s a little bit of nostalgia along with it.”