Grandmas Bring A-Game with 'Grannyball' They shoot hoops, they dribble, and they are all over 50. Barbara Lee Cohen, President of the Granny All-Star League, and Betty Douglas, a player in the league, talk about the benefits of a sports league for women over 50. They explain how it differs from regular basketball and why attending a game is an unforgettable experience.

Grandmas Bring A-Game with 'Grannyball'

Grandmas Bring A-Game with 'Grannyball'

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They shoot hoops, they dribble, and they are all over 50. Barbara Lee Cohen, President of the Granny All-Star League, and Betty Douglas, a player in the league, talk about the benefits of a sports league for women over 50. They explain how it differs from regular basketball and why attending a game is an unforgettable experience.


We're going to switch gears entirely, now, to a much more fun subject. Are there any grandmas out there?

Now, I'm sure everybody loves their peach pie and I bet you can crochet a cute hat, but have you also been looking for a place to show off how you handle the rock? If so, you might be interested in joining the Granny AllStar League. This group of women aged 50 and older play recreational basketball, and they might not make a run for the WNBA, but they could definitely give you a run for your money.

Joining us to talk about the Granny AllStar League is Barbara Lee Cohen. She is the founder of the Granny League, and Betty Douglas, who is one of their superstar players. They're with us from our Chicago bureau. Ladies, welcome.

Ms. BARBARA LEE COHEN (Founder and President, Granny AllStar League): Hello.

Ms. BETTY DOUGLAS (Player, Granny AllStar Leagues): Hi, Michel.

MARTIN: So, Barbara, I hear you're a baller.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COHEN: Believe it or not.

MARTIN: So, how did this start?

Ms. COHEN: Well actually, it did begin, to be very fair, in Iowa. And there was a woman in Iowa whose father had been a very, very prominent basketball coach and he had developed some women's teams in the 1920s, '30s. And she was an impetuous little girl and she had learned from him. And a couple of years ago, she was in need of exercise, and she decided to get some women together and they'd start playing basketball - but for genteel women because she was in her 60s. And so she is the originator of the idea for Grannyball.

By the way, Grannyball, believe it or not, is not for grandmothers. It is for any woman over 50, it's a style of shooting.

MARTIN: Really?

Ms. COHEN: Oh, granny is an underhanded style of shooting. You can use a granny shot in bowling; you can use it in volleyball; you can use it in basketball.

MARTIN: Betty, you're a baller? You're a player?

Ms. DOUGLAS: Yes, I am.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DOUGLAS: I try to be, at least, Michel.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Do you think you can take me?

Ms. DOUGLAS: With a little practice, who knows?

Ms. COHEN: She could. She's good.

MARTIN: How did you get interested in Grannyball? Were you playing before or you just started playing when you got involved with the league?

Ms. DOUGLAS: I have played basketball just about all my life. And when I heard about the Grannyball, I said, well, I'd give it a try because I looked at the rules and since my very active playing days, I picked up a pound or two here and there and there's no way I could play five-on-five right now and get up and down the court. But with the Grannyball rules, it makes it possible for me to keep playing.

MARTIN: What are the rules? How are they different from the regulation basketball rules? Do you play on a regulation court?

Ms. DOUGLAS: Yes, we play on a regulation court, which is divided into thirds and there are six people on a team, and you have two people in each one of the third sections, and you can't move out of that section.

MARTIN: And so that's old school, basically?

Ms. DOUGLAS: It's more…

Ms. COHEN: Yeah, it's old school.

MARTIN: That's old school the way women use to play back in the day, I see.

Ms. COHEN: But the dribbles are limited, there's only two dribbles allowed, no running or jumping…

Ms. DOUGLAS: Or elbowing.

Ms. COHEN: Or elbowing, you can't knock the ball out.

MARTIN: Officially, anyway. Come on, Betty, you know…

Ms. COHEN: Right, right.

MARTIN: …you know what's up.

MARTIN: Well, Betty, what do you like about it?

Ms. DOUGLAS: Well, I like it because well, first of all, the camaraderie. It's always something special about being on a team, and in past years, when I've been playing either basketball or softball, I remember those players. I remember the feeling that I always had when we'd get together for games. I enjoy the exercise; I'm very happy that I can keep playing.

MARTIN: So, Barbara, you're the president of the league, correct?

Ms. COHEN: Right.

MARTIN: Now, are you surprised by the response that you're getting because I'm guessing that a lot of people don't believe that women over 50 want to play basketball. And some of your players are in your - in their 70s and 80s and, Betty, I don't know if it's - is it okay to tell your age?

Ms. COHEN: Sure.

MARTIN: Sixty-seven?

Ms. COHEN: That's right.

MARTIN: Yeah. But I think a lot of people figure, okay, it's water aerobics, right? So, Barbara, are you surprised by the response?

Ms. COHEN: Not at all. Actually, I'm older than Betty; I don't believe that there's an age limit anymore. You are who you are and if you're filled with life and enthusiasm, there is nothing you can't do. And I think a lot of women today who are, you know, in their 60s or 70s are really like 40 or 50 in attitude.

I think I was surprised at how many play basketball, and in addition, how many were in other sports who called us just to be involved in an organized program. We've even had some women who were involved in baseball - in professional baseball teams years ago who called and said how about starting a baseball league? I said, well, we're just working on basketball. We'll get there later. But they said, well, we'll play in your basketball league if you'll consider baseball. So there is a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of excitement among women everywhere about the opportunity to participate in physical recreation programs at their own levels.

MARTIN: Any worries for about injuries? And I - forgive me I don't mean that to sound patronizing, but I stopped playing basketball pickup because I didn't want to get my nose broken - I'll just be honest with you - because I think as you get a little further along, sometimes people lose…

Ms. COHEN: Their agility.

MARTIN: …you know, lose the agility and…

Ms. COHEN: Yeah.

MARTIN: …I was more worried about getting an elbow in the face to be honest with you.

Ms. COHEN: The teams in Iowa have been playing for two years. There are 10 teams there, and so far, they've had no - knock on wood - serious problems whatsoever. We do have rules that do stress - they really do stress being careful and being considerate of one another. But I do have insurance liability and accident insurance and we do have somebody from physical therapy to assist because we want to make sure that everybody is enjoying themselves without getting severely injured. And, you know, the best you can do is just try, and we're very careful. If we see somebody that doesn't look like they are functioning as well or they're little off balance, then we ask them to sit down, relax, and come back a little later.

MARTIN: Betty, I just want to know who is your shoe contract with, really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. DOUGLAS: Well, I'm still in the process of negotiating that.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COHEN: But we are going to dress the teams. Hopefully, some of the stores might want to sponsor teams, so you never know how they'll be dressed, but it's going to be original and a little different.

And by the way, we're adding another special exhibition team called the Granny Trotters.


Ms. COHEN: And the Granny Trotters will open the program and do some spinning and bouncing a ball and kicks. The whole program is going to be show-oriented because the women will come out to perform probably to the tune of "Respect" by Aretha Franklin or something like that. We're going to make this an absolutely delightful program to be involved in.

MARTIN: All right. Barbara Lee Cohen is the president of the Granny AllStar League; Betty Douglas is one of her superstar players. They both joined us from our NPR Chicago bureau. Ladies, thank you and congratulations.

Ms. COHEN: Thank you, and come out and play with us.

Ms. DOUGLAS: And thank you, Michel. I'm getting ready to come out there and play you one of these days.

MARTIN: I know you're going to try to hurt me.

Ms. DOUGLAS: Okay.

MARTIN: But I'm going to be ready for you.

Ms. DOUGLAS: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "Respect")

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): (Singing) Ooh, your kisses…

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Ooh.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) …sweeter than honey

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Ooh.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) And guess what?

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Ooh

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) So is my money.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Ooh.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of song, "Respect")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Whip it to me.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Respect, just a little bit…

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) When you get home, now…

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit…

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me. R-E-S-P-E-C-T, you take care, TCB. Oh.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Sock it to me. Sock it to me. Sock it to me.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) A little respect…

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Sock it to me. Sock it to me. Sock it to me.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Show me…

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit…

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) …a little respect…

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit…

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) I get tired.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) Keep on tryin'.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) You're running out foolin'.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit.

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) And I ain't lyin'.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Just a little bit. Re, re, respect.

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