The San Diego Splash senior women’s basketball team plays three-on-three in 30-minute half-court games — look at their track record (and the scoreboard) and it doesn’t take long to realize that there’s nothing “senior” about these athletes.
The Splash may be the the oldest team under the San Diego Senior Women’s Basketball Association (players must be 80 or over to join), but they play to win and have two titles at the National Senior Games to show for it. Nine women are on the roster, including Meg Skinner and Grace Larson — both of whom are 91.
Born in the 1920s and ’30s, Larson and the rest of her teammates are making up for lost time and missed opportunities. “I was 78 when I got my first basketball shoes, so that was a thrill,” Larson told ESPNW. “Growing up, we didn’t have sports like the girls do today. We didn’t have the opportunity to play.”
Players on the Splash, though, didn’t just wake up on their 80th birthdays and decide to lace up — despite women’s delayed access to sports (Title IX was signed into effect by President Nixon in 1972), many of them have been shooting hoops for several decades, both as players in the San Diego Senior Women’s Basketball Association and external leagues. Team member Fran Styles, 87, has been on the court for 20 years — Skinner, for 24 years. Despite four career injuries, including two broken wrists and four fractured fingers, Skinner returns to the gym every time with her jersey on her back.
Since it’s now medically proven that seniors’ social connectedness leads to longer, more fulfilling lives, it comes as no surprise that many Splash players have outlived their significant others, siblings and life-long friends. “A lot of my childhood friends thought I was crazy at 66 to be playing basketball. They said, ‘You’ll break an arm, you’ll break a leg,'” explained 87-year-old Marge Carl. “You know, I’m the only one surviving of my childhood friends. They’re all gone, every one of them.”
“You’ve got to get engaged,” Carl told the San Diego Tribune in 2016. “You can’t sit in a room watching TV. That’s a death knell.”
With over 6 million views, ESPNW’s viral and moving video on the Splash is saliently titled “Splash Sisters” — that’s what these teammates are, plain and simple. “Friendship, a sisterhood, a family” is how Larson describes her team: “It’s the nicest group of people from all walks of life.”