Members of the Over 50 Basketball League in Saratoga Springs don’t mind that their style hasn’t changed over the decades, but they don’t need anyone reminding them.
Because they play a little closer to the ground, drive the ball a little slower and their jumpshot range has compressed, 58-year-old Matt Jones joked they don’t allow video cameras at their weekly games.
“We want no part of watching ourselves,” he said.
The league plays once a week at the West Avenue branch of the Saratoga Regional YMCA. Games are played on courts about two-thirds the size of a regular court, as they play on the side baskets of the main court. This is the seventh year of the league, which runs from October until spring.
“I was invited to play as a substitute [about three years ago],” said Jones, a lawyer in Saratoga Springs.
At the time, he had not played competitive basketball in about 10 years. When he was a teen, he was on some pretty good Saratoga Springs High School teams, played a little in college and then in some pickup leagues for a few more years. Jones was physically active still, though, continuing to run in road races that he regularly trained for.
For him, the league is another way to stay active, as he continues to participate in half-marathons. He said a lot of players are like him, staying active during the week with other workouts. Some players even play in regular pickup games, like early Sunday mornings at the West Avenue branch when it is cold.
John Bishop, 53, found his way to the league after reading one of the weekly roundups for the league that was published in a local newspaper. He recognized some of the names that made it into print and became emboldened.
“I knew one guy and just thought, if he could do it, I could do it,” Bishop said, even though he didn’t have a basketball background.
Three of his four sons had played varsity basketball in Saratoga Springs. As a teen, he had envisioned a lifetime of basketball, but that dream ended earlier when he was cut from his freshman basketball team at Shenendehowa High School and became a wrestler.
For Bishop, the league is a special experience because of the referees, scorekeepers, jerseys and occasional box scores in the newspaper. He’s been playing just a few years but says he’s really enjoyed it.
The perks of the league revolve around how well it is run by Saratoga Springs resident Bill Carey, a familiar face for anyone who frequents the Western Avenue branch of the YMCA or saw him coaching youth basketball games for more than a decade.
A major part of the game is its physicality, which can be a change of pace for men who spend most of their week behind a desk. Jones said league participants are all in good shape and aren’t afraid to muscle each other around, especially when it comes to throwing their weight around under the basket.
“Injuries are something to avoid at all cost,” he added.
That doesn’t mean they don’t wake up with some aches and pains, injuries that healed a little faster in years gone by. The day after a game, Jones said a player can feel the game, but two days later is when it really hit him. Describing his condition on one Day Two, he said it was like his body asked, “What kind of train wreck did I walk
Bishop guessed that this reality about lingering injuries helped ensure that everyone was good natured in the league. He said games are competitive, with players sometimes getting excited, but at the end of the night they all have to get to bed because there’s work the next day.
“Maybe it’s because we’re old,” he joked.
Jones added that part of the aversion to injury, which might manifest itself in opting not to dive for a loose ball, stems from the fact that all the teams in the league make the playoffs, so there isn’t any reason to take chances during the regular season.
The games move like they do at any level, Bishop said. Teams with a good big man feed him the ball inside, players who can drive to the basket do that and all the teams rely heavily on the pick-and-roll. He said that the ball gets passed around really well, with players seeming to have high basketball IQs.
For all the quality on the court, there usually aren’t many people watching, at least not until the playoffs. Bishop said a few wives are usually the only people in attendance, adding that his family never watches.
Looking to the future, Jones said he feels like he could play for a dozen more years, at which point he would be 70. He said the trick of longevity for any player would be avoiding injury.
“I think there are a bunch of us who think we could play for a while,” Jones said.
Bishop echoed this sentiment, noting that the weekly commitment serves as motivation to work out the rest of the week so he is in shape for games. “As long as I can run,” Bishop said,” I’ll do it.”
Other leagues exist in the Capital Region, with the Guilderland branch of the YMCA hosting an over 45 league and the Bethlehem branch hosting an over 50 league. More information about these programs can be found out by calling (518) 865-3500.