Basketball brings older players to the courts of Boston

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BOSTON – Only the banging of a drum nearby punctuates the squeak and screech of sneakers and the slap of a basketball hitting the floor in the Roslindale Community Center at midday on a recent Thursday as a group of older men battle for the ball and go for the hoop.

“Once you got it ingrained, its kind of hard to stop,” said Richard Kee, an 83-year-old player from Newton. “Basketball is the key to my life.”

For men 60 or older, the Boston Commission on Affairs of the Elderly supports several teams in the city, charging players a $15 annual fee. Sometimes amid the sounds of drum lessons in a nearby room at the Roslindale center, they take to the gym floor in every Tuesday and Thursday to practice, check-in with one another and rejoice in each other’s company.

“Once you start playing these things, it’s a limited number of people so you get to know each other,” Kee said.

The Roslindale team began playing about 15 years ago, when Ed Conway, now the coach, and the late Tom McElroy realized they had enough players to form a team. Now, depending on who shows up, they play a mix of pick-up scrimmages, sometimes three on three, sometimes five on five, in half-court game.

“I am amazed on how many people play basketball even at our age,” said Rich Manewal, 67, who drives almost an hour each way from his home in Hull to play. “The one thing you have when you’re retired is time.”

The camaraderie created by their play has led to the set up of phone calling trees when one player falls ill and the team supports those who wind up in the hospital with best wishes for a return to good health.

John Howard, a 69-year-old retired teacher, considers himself a men’s health advocate, both online and in the gym.

“As a crew we understand we are subject to health-related problems,” he said. He believes that playing basketball helps the men stay active and reduce heart and cardiovascular problems through the regular exercise it provides, even though it raises the risk of injury. Everyone on the team at one point has had surgery.

“The key is to go through therapy and then come back,” said Howard, who ruptured a tendon in 2012. It’s about staying in the game, he suggested, adding, “it’s an opportunity to relive our youth.”