They may not have the speed or quickness they once possessed, but that matters little to senior hoopsters Don Harmon and Warren Chichester.
Harmon, a Golden Gate resident who also has a property in Copeland where he ran a rock mine for years, recently won a bronze medal with Chichester in three-on-three basketball at the National Senior Games in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The two Collier County residents teamed up with six other players from five states to form the eight-man Vintage Hoopsters squad that competed in the 80-84 age division.
“We had six guys who did the heavy lifting and two others that kind of helped out at the end of games and gave us a rest,” Harmon said. “A few we didn’t even know until we got to the competition. But we played pretty well together.”
Harmon, 81, and Chichester, 82, won a gold medal with a slightly different group at the National Senior Games two years ago in Birmingham, Alabama. Harmon, a Collier County resident since 1962, started playing basketball at the Sunshine State Senior Games more than 20 years ago. Last month’s trip to Albuquerque was his seventh appearance in the National Senior Games, which are held every other year. He’s traveled to places like California, Texas and Kentucky for previous Senior Games.
This year, he and the Vintage Hoopsters got to play five of their nine games at The Pit, home of the University of New Mexico basketball teams. The Pit is consistently rated as one of the top sporting venues in the country, ranked 13th in a Sports Illustrated feature on the Top 20 sporting venues of the 20th century – ahead of such iconic arenas as Daytona Speedway, Notre Dame Stadium and the Rose Bowl. The Pit sits 37 feet below street level and nearly a mile above sea level.
“Playing in venues like this is part of what makes these experiences so special,” Harmon said. “Although The Pit (with its elevation and layout) was a big challenge for old guys like us.”
Harmon and his teammates went 2-2 in pool play, losing to a team from eventual gold medalist New Hampshire “that hasn’t lost in the last two Senior Games,” he said. But his squad actually led at halftime, which was a big improvement from the blowout loss to New Hampshire two years ago in Alabama. From there, the squad went 3-2 in the double-elimination bracket, losing twice to a squad from West Virginia. They defeated the Mississippi Flashbacks to clinch a spot in the medal round, where they fell to West Virginia in the silver-bronze game.
Harmon, Chichester and a group of friends get together twice a week at the Golden Gate Community Center to play hoops. Harmon says there are many benefits of playing basketball or any kind of exercise at an advanced age.
“We play all the time, it helps resist or slow down the erosion of our skills,” he joked. “But for me personally, I think it’s a great help for my balance. As you get older, you get worried more about balance and falling and I honestly believe getting out there, moving around, guarding someone, shooting – these are all things that help my balance. And not only that, it’s a great social activity. You get to know the guys you play with really well and joke around with them. It’s something I look forward to each week.”
When asked how long he plans to keep playing, Harmon offered a witty answer.
“I’ll probably play basketball until they’ve squeezed every last drop out of me,” he said.