Competition never gets old.
While many of their peers have taken up other less strenuous hobbies, Shelby Stratton, Shirley Butler, and Sherryl Dickerson haven’t allowed the passage of time to keep them from doing something they love. Their passion for the game of basketball has earned them and their Mississippi Magnolias 65-and-over women’s basketball team a trip to Cleveland, Ohio, for the National Senior Olympics. The games, which started in 1987, are for men and women ages 50 and over. The 19-sport, biennial event kicks off Thursday with a meeting. The Mississippi Magnolias, the only team from the state of Mississippi, will start play in the three-on-three, halfcourt part of the competition Friday.
“We love basketball, and we enjoy playing basketball,” Butler said. “But we’re going to have a great time because we have super camaraderie with all of us. They say women don’t get along very well, but we do.”
Don’t think for a minute, though, that the friendship the women share takes away from their competitiveness. Stratton said the team is going to Ohio focused on bringing back some hardware. The team’s designated rebounder and screen setter, Stratton likes the team’s chances this year. She said the fellowship the women share has helped them build skills that complement each other.
“I tell all the people who say to me, ‘Oh, you look great,’ that I am in better shape now than I was when I started in 2000,” Stratton said.
Said Butler, “It definitely makes you want to keep your weight off, eat better, or take care of yourself.”
Stratton and Butler are from New Hope, along with Barbara Ibarra. Dickerson, a 3-point shooter, is from Columbus, while Sue Berry is from Jackson, Judy Hasty is from Collierville, Tenn., and Gail Veazey is from Senatobia. Stratton, Butler, Dickerson, and Ibarra said the team benefits from the fact that they live in close proximity to each other, which enables them to practice together. The entire team came together July 6 at the East Columbus gym to play a team from Tennessee in a fundraiser for the trip to the National Senior Olympics.
Stratton, 75, is the oldest member of the team. She played basketball at New Hope, and said the Mississippi Magnolias were started by Syble Stripling in 2000. Stripling continued to play with the team until her death in 2005.
Butler, 70, also played basketball at New Hope. Dickerson, who is originally from Tate County, also played basketball in high school. She has lived in Columbus since 1971.
Stratton, Butler, and Dickerson grew up playing three-on-three basketball at a time when conventional wisdom suggested women weren’t strong enough to run up and down the court. The growth of women’s college basketball has seen the number of opportunities expand for young women. Even though that explosion came too late for the Mississippi Magnolias, the women continue to practice every Tuesday and Thursday, 12 months a year.
“My daddy loved golf, and he took it up after he retired, and he said, ‘Sherryl, you need to start playing golf. You’re going to get too old to play basketball,’ ” Dickerson said. “I said, ‘But I don’t like golf, I like basketball.”
Said Butler, “You’ve got to have a desire to play at our age. I am still working full time, so some afternoons I want to call at 6 p.m. and cancel because I am tired, but they don’t let me. If they call and cancel I call them and it is not nice.”
Stratton remembers when Stripling first put an article in the paper looking for interested women who wanted to play basketball. She acknowledges she and her teammates don’t run as fast or jump as high as they used to, but she and her teammates agree they can still do the things they did when they were younger, even if three seconds sometimes seems like too short a time for them to get out of the lane.
This week, they hope the officials will give them an extra second or two to move out of the lane so they can show just how well their games have matured over time.
“Just like when you get older, I think you learn a lot of things with age,” Dickerson said.
Said Butler, “I just have this thing about being competitive. I am sure it was instilled in me, but it is still there.”
“All of us have it,” Dickerson said.
The Mississippi Magnolias finished fourth at the 2007 Olympics in Kentucky and fifth in the 2005 Games.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.