It’s a question that can follow any person around. We wonder about the decisions of our past and ponder about the potential of the future.
Those who played organized sports as kids can look back fondly and remember the teams they played for. Now, thanks to the National Senior Games, we can all answer the question, “What if we got the gang back together to compete once again?”
That’s exactly what the Challengers did, 42 years after becoming State Finalists in high school girls’ basketball.
A Reunion for the Ages
After a year-long pandemic-postponement, the 2022 National Senior Games were framed as a “Reunion for the Ages.” The masters sports community is a tight-knit group of friends and competitors, many of whom hadn’t seen each other since the 2019 games in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The hugs and high-fives, laughter and story-swapping from athletes 50 to 103 could be felt in all corners of Fort Lauderdale, but perhaps nowhere more so than the basketball court.
“I wouldn’t rather take the court with any other girls in my high school,” Naomi Shedd explained. “The homies, from 1980. We’re representing Hollywood Christian school, where we played in 1980, and now 42 years later we’ve named our team ‘Challengers 6.0’ because we’re not getting older. We’re getting better! We’re getting bolder!”
The Challengers didn’t just play together for Hollywood Christian in 1980. They were state finalists. They would even go on to win a national tournament in Tennessee. Having spent their childhood days playing in Broward County, it was an easy decision for this team to reunite in their old stomping grounds of Fort Lauderdale. For the Challengers, the return trip to South Florida was the perfect chance to reignite relationships.
“It feels really good, because we all loved each other. We had each other’s backs during high school, and it’s just great to see everybody again,” Sherry Brown Blomberg told Growing Bolder.
“It feels great to be out with the girls from 40 years ago and just reconnecting with everybody. It’s awesome,” Pam Howell Mason said. “[Anyone] can do it too! Friendships never die, get your old team together.”
Skills Fade, Spirit Remains
After a 4-decade layoff, the former state finalists have admittedly lost a step from their glory days.
“I get frustrated with myself because I want to do the things that we did before, and it’s just not there,” Sharon Kunsman said. “The muscles and bones, they don’t quite work the same 40 years later.”
“[Our moves] are significantly slower,” Howell Mason said. “A little bit like molasses slow, but we’re just out here to have a good time. We’re enjoying the competition.”
While the cuts weren’t as crisp and their rhythm not as fine-tuned as it once was, what was instantly clear was this basketball team hadn’t lost an ounce of fire in their hearts.
“This sport allows us to reignite the athlete within us,” said Shedd, who could be seen firing up her teammates and debating calls with the referees between plays. “I’m 60 this year. We’ve spent the last 30 years taking care of the dogs, the kids, the husband. This is my time. My time to just rediscover who I was. I was an athlete from age 8 until 20.”
“Absolutely we care [if we win]. We do not like to lose,” Kunsman said. “Our last year in high school we were 37-1. So we don’t like to lose.”
An Opportunity for All
The Challengers didn’t find lightning in a bottle to recapture the success they had in South Florida in 1980, failing to medal in the 55+ women’s age group. But what they did find was a life lesson applicable to any older adult who is wondering “what if?” Sports, especially when done in a team setting, can change your life at any stage.
“It is never too late,” Shedd explained. “It gives you the motivation to stay active. Sports keeps you motivated to exercise. I’m not a gym rat. I can’t do that. It’s too boring. This tournament is run like a fine oiled machine. Come together and take advantage. That’s the beauty of sports. It brings people together. We would not be reunited. We’d still be just connecting [online] if it wasn’t for sports.”
Click here to read more stories from the 2022 National Senior Games and to watch all of Growing Bolder’s live daily wrap-up shows and athlete features.
This story was featured in the July 2022 issue of the Digital Digest. Check out more stories from this issue.