14 July 2023

Still holding court: Meet the basketballers staying a step ahead of the ageing game

| Gail Eastaway
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women on basketball court

Cooma’s walking basketball group ranges in age from 17 to 83. Photo: Gail Eastaway.

For some people, growing old is not an option they are too willing to embrace, preferring to remain as active as possible for as long as possible.

Sadly for some folk, having to give up their favourite activities becomes a reality too soon, but that’s not the case for a group of diehard basketballers who refuse to leave the court.

Every Thursday night, the Cooma Basketball Stadium resounds to the laughter and encouragement of some mature women engaged in the local walking basketball (WB) competition.

Walking basketball, you ask?

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Well, even the most determined senior eventually finds sprinting down the court on a fast break just a tad out of reach. Maybe in their mind, but in their body? Hmmm …

Originating in Victoria, WB is a fun, social way for participants to remain active.

It offers a low-impact alternative to exercise for participants of all abilities.

WB was introduced as an alternative program that allowed adults and seniors to play basketball as a form of gentle exercise.

It helps people stay involved in the sport they may have been part of for some time, or to try a new sport, and learn new skills.

Not only does it allow participants to be physically active, but it also reduces social isolation and increases community inclusion. WB participants can also enjoy a fun, safe environment while maintaining their zest for life and confidence in their abilities.

The only rule in the game is simply no running!

In the case of the Cooma women’s group, players range in age from 17 to 83, although the 17-year-old is now playing in the regular women’s competition, having learnt to play the game with the ”oldies”.

Among the 20 or so registered players is a range of abilities, from being a state and regional representative to enjoying a few seasons in lower local grades.

Cooma has a long history of basketball. It was first played at the jail and Cooma Public School in 1938. In the late 1950s, the game moved indoors to a hall owned by the Snowy Mountains Authority in Bolaro Street, where the sport is still hosted today.

In 1972, the Basketball Association bought the old hall from the Snowy Mountains Authority, and with assistance from the NSW Government, the Cooma Municipal Council and the citizens of Cooma, was able to build the new stadium, which opened in February 1980.

Cooma basketball was at its zenith in the late 1970s and ’80s, with close to 1000 people, from juniors to seniors, pounding the boards every day of the week.

Some members of the Cooma WB group have been playing in that location for more than 50 years.

WB in Cooma is the initiative of basketball stalwart Betty “Basketball” Longhurst, who has spent a lifetime in and around the Cooma stadium playing, coaching and promoting the sport.

WB has been a welcome activity for many players who prefer not to compete in the regular competitions.

One, who prefers to remain anonymous, was still playing in the regular women’s and mixed competitions well into her 50s.

She said that at one time (1970-’80s), “I think we were at the stadium about 10 days a week every week. If we weren’t playing, we were coaching, being coached, refereeing, doing duty or attending meetings or clinics. On the weekends we had rep games and/or carnivals to travel to. I wish I was still that fit.”

The fast breaks might not be as fast, and re-learning to lay up a basket at a walk can be a challenge, but the weekly session is popular.

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The Cooma group plays full court, full time, but doesn’t keep score. The emphasis is on fun and fitness more than competitiveness.

More-experienced players assist beginners and achievements are celebrated, even unconventional shooting styles.

WB is supported by Basketball NSW. Players are registered through Cooma Basketball Association.

Interested players are encouraged to attend the Thursday afternoon session at the stadium in Bolaro Street, Cooma, from 5:30 pm.

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