San Diego senior women's basketball team proves that age is just a number

The San Diego Splash celebrate after qualifying for 2017 Nationals (San Diego Senior Women's Basketball Association - SWBA/Facebook)
The San Diego Splash celebrate after qualifying for 2017 Nationals. (Facebook/SWBA)

Grace Larsen didn’t own a pair of basketball shoes until she was 78. Now, the senior athlete races up and down the court with competitive, like-minded women in a league designed to promote spirit, love and athleticism.

Larsen competes for the San Diego Splash women’s basketball team, and she serves as the captain of a roster of women over 80 years old. The Splash are one of 18 teams in the San Diego Women’s Basketball Association Sunday 50-plus division, and they play other senior teams around the area.

“Growing up, we didn’t have sports like the girls do today. We didn’t have the opportunity to play. That was before Title IX,” Larsen said in an ESPNW short film about the team. “I thought, ‘Gee, that would be so much fun if I could actually play basketball.’ As long as I can, I’m going to play.”

Splash athletes Grace Larsen and JoAnn Jansen play in a match in August 2016 (San Diego Senior Women's Basketball Association -SWBA/Facebook)
Splash athletes Grace Larsen and JoAnn Jansen play in a match in August 2016. (Facebook/SWBA)

Di Meredith, a former Splash coach and current director of the Senior Women’s Basketball Association, praised Larsen’s fearlessness and passion. She said she has rarely seen an athlete like Larsen, who is able to pick up different skills so late in her life.

“Grace is a special case. She took up skateboarding at 50, and her sons had to come in and make her stop. She had to find something else, she has always been out there looking for the next thrill, when she found basketball,” Meredith told Yahoo Sports. “She isn’t even five foot. She’s a little thing. But she’s paid a coach to help her, and I mean, she went all-in as if she was 18 and trying to get a college scholarship. You’re not going to tell her that she’s not young.”

Larsen and teammate Meg Skinner are the oldest players on the team at 91, but age doesn’t stop these ladies.

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“Oh yeah, we play to win, absolutely,” Skinner said in the ESPNW film.

Together, the Splash have inspired not only one another but also league officials and other local basketball players, fans and supporters.

Kirsten Cummings, the CEO of the National Senior Women’s Basketball Association, said she immediately fell in the love with the Splash from the first time she saw them on a basketball court, and that their efforts have inspired all of her work as a basketball administrator.

“I was watching the team, and they were shooting hook shots, arguing with the refs, elbowing for rebounds,” Cummings told Yahoo Sports. “I got goosebumps all over, it was so cool.”

A former professional basketball player, Cummings helped coach the Splash for a brief period of time before moving into an administrative position. She said she loved the women’s commitment to the game.

In 30-minute, three-on-three half-court games, these women show that anything is possible. Age doesn’t stop the players, Cummings said, and they remain committed to their weekly practices no matter what.

“If you can stand up and move your legs, you’re welcome,” 87-year-old Splash team member Marge Carl said in the ESPNW video.

The story of the Splash has spread rapidly since the ESPNW video, Cummings said, but the team’s impact extends beyond the court. The Splash have partnered with four universities to put on clinics and work alongside the college athletes in their facilities. In addition, the Senior Women’s Basketball Association offers scholarships to aspiring athletes as a way to help them pay for basketball camps, programs that were not available to members of the Splash during their teenage years.

“This year, we gave 16 scholarships to go to camp, $9,000 worth of scholarships,” Meredith said. “We are more than just ourselves, we always pay it forward. It’s important to us that those girls get those opportunity because our girls didn’t have the opportunity to go to camp because of Title IX, so that’s been a real cool thing.”

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