Monday, February 9, 2009

Hardwood Time Travelers


When you look up the word stud in the dictionary, you’ll find a picture of 55 year-old Charlie Bickford. Last year he was the country’s oldest college basketball player. I am not making this up. Charlie Bickford was an extreme outdoorsman, working as a backpacking and a whitewater rafting guide. With a new wife and a couple of kids, it was time to settle down and find a steady career. He enrolled at the University of Main at Augusta to study nursing. After watching the six-foot four inch, 230 pound Bickford bang a couple of the school’s basketball players around in a Monday night pickup game, the coach, just a few days older than Bickford, was impressed enough to invite him to practice with his depleted team. Looking at it as a good way to stay in shape, Charley agreed. Before long the 52 year-old was suiting up as the sixth man off of the bench. Repeat, Charlie Bickford was the sixth man off the bench. A 52 YEAR OLD MAN WAS ACTUALLY CONTRIBUTING TO A COLLEGE BASKETBALL TEAM. Bickford played two seasons with the UMA Moose. He has opted not play this year. I guess that whole supporting a wife and kids business got in the way. Charlie is working for the university and finishing up his degree. I don’t know about you, but I’m inspired.

I recently learned Charlie Bickford is not the oldest man ever to play college basketball – not even close. The distinction is held by Ken Mink who is 73 and currently playing college basketball for Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tennessee. It sounds impossible but I saw the video footage with my own eyes. It’s available on You Tube. The man gets up and down the court better than your average forty year-old, better than lots of thirty year-olds, and he still possesses some legitimate basketball skills. His passes are crisp and he consistently drops vintage 1950’s push shots and runners. To add to his credibility, Mink scored two points in a real game. The ball came to the old timer in the corner. Ken threw up a fake, sending his defender into the popcorn machine. When the opposing player finally came down, he hit Ken with a hard foul. Grandfather Basketball stepped up to the free throw line and coolly dropped his two free throws. Man, it was absolutely beautiful.

Ken Mink is my hero. He personifies the impossible dream. At 48, I don’t see how I can even think about calling myself old. Ken Mink has proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are as old as we choose to be. I haven’t participated in a pickup game for over a year and I’m thinking maybe I’ve got a game or two left in me. As a matter of fact, I think it’s time to lace up the Nikes and see if I can find my old shooting stroke. The way I figure it, I’ll be retiring in twenty years. That gives me 240 months to get in shape for the Chandler, Gilbert Community College tryouts.


Saturday morning basketball officiating seems to get better every week. This last Saturday a mom actually offered me after game snacks. Yeah, I think I’ve found basketball referee heaven. I’ve officiated close to 200 games over the last three years. And I’ve heard a lot of nasty comments. This is because I am cursed with something we referees call rabbit ears. The second most disturbing comment came my first year of officiating when an irate parent told my partner and me we were the worst referees he had ever seen. This character really got to me. I had to ask, “Really? The worst referees you EVER saw? Are you talking the course of your entire life?" The guy didn’t answer. He just stalked off in a huff. I guess he thought I was being sarcastic, but I really wanted to know. I’m more sensitive than your average run of the mill ref. The most disturbing comment came in the form of a threat on my life. That one bothered me too. I didn’t have to deal with any insensitive people last Saturday. No, it was a good day; I drove home eating Cheetohs, drinking grape Gatorade and feeling pretty good about my Saturday morning gig.