Sunday. Not quite noon at the SouthWest Community Center. In the gym early arrivals in street clothes shootin’ and schmoozin’.
“All right, all right, all right,” booms a veteran of the scene, asserting his presence.
“What up?” comes the rhetorical response.
In its 14th season, the Baby Boomers Basketball League is, in the words of co-founder James Puddin’ Jackson, “Still a family type setting.” The league, which requires participants to be over 40 years old, provides the players’ friends and family members who pack the bleachers with an afternoon of intensely competitive basketball and a sense of history. Many of those they watch began challenging each other on elementary school playgrounds, then as juniors in summer Donny Fielder tournaments, then in pursuit of sectional and state championships in high school.
For many, with jobs and families, it is they only time during the week they can see each other to reminisce and renew the competition.
“We’ve got a real diversity of types this year,” Jackson observes. “It’s a social network. We’ve got business men, fire fighters, got one retired from Chrysler. Lots of barriers are broken down here. They’ve grown out of the turf battles. They’re watching their mouths and emotions. They know they’re role models for these young boys who are watching.”
The diversity extends to a half dozen Caucasians sprinkled on the ten team rosters, and a female coach, former Corcoran and current OCC hoopster Bianca Jones.
Jackson’s co-founder Ed Mitchell, who played at Henninger and coached Pioneer Homes to Fielder and Metro League championships, sits at the scorers’ table, collecting bills from team captains. Players chip in for each team to pay $40 each week for referees and keepers of the scorebook and electronic scoreboard.
One Sunday last month the loudest greeting was for the referees, with shouts of “Conflict of interest,” as one of the zebra stripers, Dwyane Ford, and one of that game’s players, Tony Ford were brothers. Tony had honed his skills with Carl Newton on a Central Village Youth Center team which didn’t lose a game for three years. Ford went on to all-city honors at Nottingham and played for OCC. Newton, all-city at Henninger went on to play for Norfolk State. Now they form the backcourt for Family and Friends, a team sponsored by Newton’s construction firm.
Gone from the league this year are some of the standouts of past years, especially Howard Triche, who toiled at Corcoran, SU and was drafted to the NBA by the New York Knicks. Mention of his tenure, along with Pony Bullock, Bobby Chestnut and Gary Sparks, which made Ballard Construction almost invincible in past seasons drew a wry grin from Mitchell. “The NBA’s at a standstill,” he quipped. “This is the NBA now.”
And for those watching, it might as well be. Although the players tend to be heavier and slower than in their prime, with most whistles blown on traveling and 3-secord calls, the referees observe that Baby Boomer games are the most intense they will officiate. Local legends, like Carlos Williams, Henninger and CW Post, now running the point for Joe Reddick’s New Fuji Café, reflect their discipline, stretching briefly before the opening buzzer. But the league has also enabled the emergence of its own legends, like Keith “Lil’ Bill” Rouser, who didn’t play for a high school team, but now runs point for Battle Florist.
But of real note this year is the roster of B&B Lounge, assembled by Jesse Brantley to repeat last year’s championship, with the addition of SU former players and current coaches Lazarus Sims and Adrian Autry. Another prominent addition is the food counter, with polite and efficient youth trainees, serving reasonably priced meals and snacks. A five game schedule begins every Sunday at noon