On this court, the hoopla isn't for the young pros

Basketball: Bykota Senior Center's over-60 pickup games draw state and national competitors who play -- even against politicians -- to win.

July 10, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

They don't slam dunk or dribble the ball between their legs, and "fast break" is perhaps not the most appropriate term. But as a couple of whippersnappers learned yesterday, the old guys at Bykota Senior Center come to play.

More than 30 of them showed up for yesterday's over-60 pickup games after learning that County Executive James T. Smith Jr. would take the court, along with state Sen. James Brochin, a Towson Democrat who had met one of the team members while knocking on doors last summer.

Politicians are nothing new for the group, who went from a handful of guys looking for something to do after softball season to a rising powerhouse on the Senior Olympics circuit. During the last gubernatorial campaign, Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. laced up his sneakers for a game at the center in downtown Towson.

"He didn't show any mercy, either," said Tom Murtaugh, one of the organizers of the games. "He's a good ballplayer, and he played hard."

But much to the players' chagrin, Smith showed up yesterday in a shirt and tie, slacks and wingtips - he had just attended the funeral for slain Baltimore police Officer Brian D. Winder. Arnold Eppel, director of the county's Department of Aging, suited up.

Eppel, 48, got the ball and tried to drive the lane, only to find himself smothered by a zone defense that included men who were college All-Americans before Eppel was born.

"Welcome to the NBA," one of the men taunted.

Brochin, 40, didn't get off to such a good start, either.

He had a pass picked off, and he clanged his first shot off the front of the rim, only to watch as a 65-year-old grabbed the rebound and buried the ball in the bottom of the net.

The players, who range in age from 61 to 79, mostly don't run very fast, but they find open men with crisp passes and nail two-handed set shots.

Many of the men played in college. Things have changed, said Joe Carroll of Timonium, a 71-year-old who played for Georgetown in the early 1950s.

"You know what you want to do, you just can't do it," he said.

Bucky Kimmett, 75, played guard and forward in college, but as the competition has shrunk, he said, he is suddenly a center.

"Now I'm the big man," said Kimmett, a member of Towson State's hall of fame.

Other things, Carroll said, stay the same.

"I couldn't shoot when I played for Georgetown," he said. "Come to find I still can't shoot."

Bykota sent five teams in various age groups to the Maryland Senior Olympics last year, and four made it to the national Senior Olympics. One team finished fourth in its age group, Murtaugh said.

Eppel, who redeemed himself in the end by stealing the ball and sinking a game-winning lay-up, said the team has played an important role in advertising the merits of the county's senior centers.

He said people often resist going to the centers because they think they are just for "old folks and women doing crochet."

"Those are not old folks in there," he said after the game, a stream of sweat trickling down his temple.

Brochin and Eppel called it quits after one game, but the Bykota regulars, who had already been playing for an hour, kept going.

"They're in better shape than I am," said Brochin, who made two jump shots late in the game. "I just tried to hold my own."

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