It's a slam-dunk: The old guys have game kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

April 12, 2009|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Wondering what to do in your golden years?

Think all the talk about today's "active seniors" is a lot of AARP propaganda?

Do yourself a favor: Stop by the Bykota Senior Center in Towson any Monday, Wednesday or Friday and watch the old guys play hoops.

Thirty show up, but keep your eyes on the real geezers, the guys in their 80s: sharp-shooting Arky Vaughn; Bucky Kimmett, a former star at what is now Towson University; Ralph Piersanti, his former teammate on the Tigers; Joe Lamantia; and Hank Thielemann

The five will represent Maryland at the Summer National Senior Games in California in August. They don't know how many teams they'll face out there. At their age, you don't plan too far ahead.

Watching these guys play full-court, here's what you notice: They don't move too fast. And they shoot a lot of two-handed set shots, which haven't been seen since Leave It to Beaver was on TV.

But the shots go in, and the passes are crisp. And it's clear the competitive juices are still flowing, even with all the knee replacements and shoulder problems on record.

"Every point means something," says Thielemann, 84. "... They really try."

On the day I visited, two guys even squared off against each other after a hard foul.

Sure, it was a couple of the "youngsters" - a couple of crazy 70-year-olds, apparently on testosterone overload.

And other guys stepped in before any punches could be thrown. Which is a good thing, since taking a whack at that age can really play havoc with your heart stent.

Yeah, the stent-quotient is off the charts.

"Just had a stent put in Monday a week ago," says Lamantia, 83. It was his third.

But that's nothing in this league. Piersanti, 81, has gone through six stents.

"Also had a couple of heart attacks," he says casually.

Turns out Kimmett, 80, who scored more than 1,500 points at Towson, had a stent inserted, too.

By this point, I was afraid to ask Vaughn, 80, or Thielemann if they had any stents, since I was running out of notebook space.

But seeing the older guys persevere with all their health issues has been a real inspiration to the younger guys at Bykota.

Says Piersanti: "Guys will say to me: 'When I see you run up and down the court, you don't know what that does for me. It gives me hope that I can still do this.' "

Of course, when you learn what these guys have been through, you see why they don't get excited about medical procedures.

Three are World War II veterans. Lamantia missed the bloody D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach, where some 10,000 troops were killed or wounded, when his orders were lost. He landed four days later, when the worst of the fighting was over.

Piersanti and Thielemann both believe they would have ended up fighting in Japan were it not for the Japanese surrender following the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Thielemann, a flight engineer and gunner in the Army Air Forces stationed at Alamogordo, N.M., witnessed the first atomic bomb test, 40 miles away at the Trinity test site.

It happened at 5:30 in the morning on July 16, 1945, as he and his crew did a pre-flight inspection of his B-29 bomber.

"I turned around and everything was a brilliant white," he recalls. "... It was like a hundred million flashbulbs going off."

On this day at Bykota, though, the war seems a distant memory.

I watch the old guys run up and down the court - OK, maybe "run" isn't the right word. "Shuffle" is the better term.

Suddenly Lamantia throws up a prayer. It bangs the rim, bounces 3 feet in the air and somehow rattles through.

A roar goes up from the rest of the guys and smiles break out all around.

"That's the No. 1 thing about playing here," says Kimmett. "It's the best fun there is."

Soon they'll be gearing up for the California trip. It'll be pricey, what with airfare, hotel accommodations and the rest. So they're soliciting donations. If you can help, send a check to the Bykota Senior Center at 611 Central Ave. in Towson.

Helping old guys have fun - that's a worthy cause.

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