Well before the 9 a.m. start time of the Hoops for the Ages basketball tournament, the Logan Family Gymnasium at Robert Crown Community Center was buzzing with pre-game activity.
Volunteers checked in participants, fans filed into seats and players warmed up practicing shooting and dribbling techniques.
“Courts one and two are age 40 to 49,” organizer Rob Bady said. “Courts three and four are 50 and up. We’ve got 12 teams in total. They are going to play round robin, and then we’re going to go into what we call pool play for the championship.”
The three-on-three basketball tournament for senior citizens was held Saturday, April 9, and it’s the kind of event that Bady hopes will become an Evanston tradition.
More than 90 men and women players participated in the free, all-day tournament hosted by the City of Evanston and the Levy Senior Center Foundation.
The women’s tournament was held at Levy Senior Center, 300 Dodge Ave., and the men’s tournament took place at the Crown Community Center, 1801 Main Street.
Bady said in an interview with the RoundTable that, unlike many senior basketball tournaments that allow players 50 years and older, Hoops for the Ages was open to players 40 and older “because we want to introduce them to playing basketball for life.”
Looking forward, Bady said he hopes to expand participation in Hoops for the Ages, including teams from the Evanston Fire and Police Departments, “supporting the ability to stay active and age successfully. It impacts not only you, but your loved ones and people around you,” he said.
Theresa Fix, 77, was one of the older women’s basketball players at the Levy Center, and she came from Westmont, driving more than an hour to play. She said many others made a similarly long trip, pointing to an 88-year-old player who drove from the South Side of Chicago, and another player who drove from the Indiana border.
Fix said she has been coming to the Levy Center every Tuesday for the past 15 years because it’s one of the only gyms in the vicinity with teams of older women’s basketball that she’s been able to find.
She explained that, in senior basketball, players play three-on-three on a half-court instead of a full-court.
“That helps us be able to continue to play for a longer time,” she said.
Although she plays at the center weekly, she clarified that Hoops for the Ages was a standalone event with two purposes: To prep the women’s senior team for the national competition next week in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and to try to get more seniors to play. Her team is the North Stars, from Chicago’s North Side, and the youngest person on her team is 75.
“We’re trying to compete before we go to kind of get to see where we stand,” she said.
Fix said she picked up basketball again in her early 60s when she heard on the radio that “this kind of thing” was happening. She said she got herself connected and has been doing it ever since.
The women competing on Saturday came from a variety of backgrounds. One was a retired judge and another a former hospital housekeeper, though not all were retirees.
Fix said she found a community in the other players, golfing with some of them periodically. They also celebrate each other’s birthdays.
All of the women competing want to win and get better, Fix said, but they are also concerned about hurting each other.
“An older friend of mine in Michigan … said, ‘You know, we’re all one fall away from a wheelchair,’ Fix said. “I mean, we really try to protect each other.”
When asked what she enjoys most about playing with other seniors, Fix said she likes the competition.
“If I see a basketball hoop, I want to put a ball in it. And if there’s someone competing with me, it’s even more wanted.”
Over at the Men’s Tournament at Robert Crown Community Center at 1801 Main St, Jim Mayer, 72, sat courtside after a game while his peers continued to compete.
“That was a little hectic for me, fast-paced. I’m 72. And I know I’m younger than some of these guys, older than a lot of them. I’m not in great shape. So I’m tired,” Mayer said. Originally from the Hyde Park neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side, he now he lives in Highland Park.
“I’m not keeping up with it, but it’s intense,” he said.
Mayer plays basketball twice a week at Brooks Park on the Northwest Side of Chicago, and some of the guys who play at Robert Crown also play at Brooks Park on Fridays, and they invited Mayer to the tournament in Evanston.
He said most of his fellow players are retired. One is a former dentist, another 83-year-old is a former sports news reporter. Mayer spent his career racing horses.
“I just liked the camaraderie,” Mayer said. “I don’t see these guys very often. I have to play better in the next two games.”
Mayer said the opposing team beat his team, 28 to 9.
“Thank God, the score’s not up there anymore,” he said.
Heidi Randhava contributed to this story.