They're Over 50, But Not Over The Hill

Men In County's Senior Leagues Stay In Shape, Enjoy Fierce Competition

February 16, 1992|By Steven Kivinski and John Harris III | Steven Kivinski and John Harris III,Staff writers

They play just as hard as kids more than half their age, and from listening to them talk about their exploits, they probably have more fun.

The men who participate in the county's thriving 50-and-over senior basketball and volleyball leagues aren't out to prove anything. They just want to enjoy the sports they grew up with or get themselves back into the shape of their more youthful days.

"Watching sports doesn't turn me on," said Bobby Pollero, who plays in the Tuesday night volleyball league and the Sunday afternoon basketball league. "Sure, I'll watch an Oriole game or the Super Bowl, but I'm not ready to sit and watch yet. I still want to participate."

Pollero, a Pasadena resident who engaged in high school basketball in the New York City suburbs, where "basketball was king," describes the the leagues as "appropriately competitive," and says the games are played with one unwritten rule in mind.

"We play by one code, and that is that everybody has to go to work the next day," said Pollero, a business management professor at Anne Arundel Community College. "I haven't seen any violation of that. You won't see anyone intentionally fouling someone from behind on a fast break. If you have a shot, you're entitled to it."

Basketball commissioner Jean "Frenchy"Letan said he was simply filling a void when he founded the league back in December.

"It gives the guys something to look forward to in the winter," said Letan, a forward on Wooden Nickel's undefeated squad that plays at Marley Middle School. "A lot of guys came to me andsaid they were depressed just lying around the house, and this league has given them new life."

Glen Burnie resident Dave McKinnon, a member of the Ace Hardware volleyball team, is a prime example of theleague's therapeutic values.

The 52-year-old federal government employee had been active in sports all his life, until a stomach disorder detected in the early 1980s put him on the injured reserve list for most of the decade.

"Man, I tell you, I was in bad shape," saidthe former pitcher for Mattawamkeag High in Maine. "I had to have surgery on my windpipe because I was throwing up so much. I looked so old during that period that when I used to go to the carnival, they'd let me in for the senior-citizen discount.

"Now, I feel great, notonly by playing softball and volleyball, but I also work out on a treadmill and I do a little working out with weights. I guess you couldsay I'm hooked on sports."

Pasadena native George Kelch, 56, a member of defending champion Spindler's first-place volleyball team, simply loves the enthusiasm and competitiveness that the players exhibit.

"Even at our age, we still play to improve, but at the same time, we go all-out to win," said Kelch, a former semipro football player. "We get up for each game, and the competitiveness is great."

Although the volleyball league, which plays its matches at George Fox Middle School, has dropped from six to four teams, Kelch says the majority of the players enjoy it even more.

"Last year, with six teams, we had to play on Tuesdays and Sundays, and the Sundays would interfere with a lot of the guys' schedules," he said. "But now that we only have four teams that play just once a week, the level of enthusiasm is way up, and the guys look forward to playing more."

Despite Betty & Jake's 0-4 basketball record, Pollero, a 5-9 guard, insists that he still finds pleasure in the activity. He even went so far as tosay he pities those whose age falls short of the half-century mark.

"When I walk off the court, I feel great," he said. "We got crushed by 25 points one game, and we all walked off the court feeling wonderful. We have a great time."

Terry Murray, a sponsor and player for the Plaza Liquors basketball team, believes it's his generation's love affair with sports that has spawned such success.

"I think itis really just our generation, the early baby boomers," said Murray,owner of Plaza Liquors. "Our age group just doesn't seem to stop playing sports.

"This league is very competitive; it's not pickup ball. These guys are going just as hard today, with no hair, as they were 10 and 20 years ago, and their competitive spirit hasn't dropped one notch. The players are a little overweight and a little slower, butthe desire to do well and to win is still there."

Glen Burnie resident Lee Hood, the basketball league's publicity chairman and self-proclaimed 14th man on the Wooden Nickel (4-0), said it's a "real thrill" to watch some of his heroes from the past on the court again.

While having fun is a priority, winning is still the main objective. And no one is more familiar with winning than Wooden Nickel coach Billy Criss.

Criss, who chose not to play so he could concentrate on coaching, attributes his team's quick start to a swift backcourt complemented by a ferocious inside game.

"We have two guards, Paul Zimmerman and Cal Etheridge, and they can run with anybody," said Criss,a Pasadena resident and graduate of Glen Burnie High School. "They can just run forever. We play man-to-man most of the time and we just get the break on teams.

"Our forwards (Letan and Jobo Riggins) andcenter (Barry Shetrone) have been doing a good job hitting the boards. They get the ball to the guards and they do the work."

And whenthe work is done?

"We shake hands and pat each other on the back," said Pollero. "The camaraderie among the players is incredible. It's a real fraternity, and everyone genuinely cares about each other."

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