I remember reading somewhere that the difference between being young and being old is that young people choose a breakfast cereal for the toy, and old people choose it for the fiber content.
I suppose that mostly is true. But on a recent bright Saturday morning, I met some older women on the tennis courts at Anthem, and they were whacking fierce groundstrokes to all corners of the court, and starting Friday they will be reaching in the Lucky Charms box again, in Surprise, Ariz.
That’s where the United States Tennis Association will hold its annual championships for recreational league players. The older women representing Sun City Anthem — each is 60 or older — qualified by winning the Intermountain Section against older tennis-playing women from Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and Idaho.
The older women from the Anthem team said it was cold and rainy and blustery at the sectionals. So when somebody rushed the net, at least in a manner of speaking, it sounded like the Tin Woodsman leaking oil on the yellow brick road, because cold and rainy and blustery are not optimum conditions in the USTA’s 60-over divisions.
When I met the team at Anthem, the courts smelled mostly of flowers, not analgesic balm. I counted only two or three knee braces among the players. The bulky Velcro contraptions encasing the knees of Josie Baker, the team captain, definitely qualified as braces; it was hard to tell if the black band of fabric below Karin Bridges’ right knee was brace or fashion accessory.
But one of the players said I shouldn’t be fooled by the smell of flowers and the spryness I had witnessed on the Anthem hard courts because “everybody here has something wrong with them.”
Maybe so, but these older women seemed pretty tough to me, and I’ll bet none ever missed riding in a van to one of those master-planned Sun City communities because they sneezed and were put on the disabled list, which is what happened to Mat Latos when he was pitching for the Padres.
The one time I was in the Padres clubhouse, Latos threw an athletic tapewad at my head — at least Yorvit Torrealba said it was Latos. The older women from the Sun City Anthem team were much more approachable.
I learned that Irene Schwartz, 74, still books air travel for boxing promoter Bob Arum and his crew at Top Rank; Norba Wiebe, 74, is a retired flight attendant and basketball coach who does not take meds; Elizabeth Saide, 73, is a crafty lefty (aren’t all lefties crafty?) with a crafty serve who had a crafty tennis court in her backyard when she lived on the crafty side of Los Angeles; Josie Baker, 72, the captain, is a retired research chemist.
Lani Kuncl, 71, taught English and keeps everybody laughing with her wit; Beverly Ginsberg, 70, was an administrator at the NYU School of Medicine and organizes team mixers (and you know how important those are); Durinda Stewart, 69, began playing tennis at a club built by her husband’s family and the Osmond family of Provo, Utah, and she has 21 grandchildren; Karin Bridges, 68, has a deadly forehand and is a dedicated follower of fashion. Or maybe she just has a sore knee.
Barbara Booth, 68, is a retired math teacher; Rosie Sulistio, 68, a retired nurse; Patty Yamano, a retired educator; Marci Loss, a retired office manager. At 61, she’s the baby of the team.
Eight of the 12 players are married; 12 of the 12 say tennis had added years to their lives physically, and decades to their lives, socially.
“We have team-bonding parties; go out to lunches after matches,” says Josie Baker, the captain with the knee braces.
She said there was a major shindig after this year’s sectionals at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, where “the manager treated us with a special high-calorie dessert after a long day.”
But this weekend in Arizona it won’t be about high-calorie desserts or even the championship trophy. It will only be a little about whacking fierce groundstrokes. It will be a lot about sharing a good time with friends.
It will be about pink marshmallow hearts and yellow marshmallow moons and orange marshmallow stars and green marshmallow clovers.
It will about reaching for the little plastic wristwatch in the bottom of the Lucky Charms box.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.