"Prosperity always inflates the imprudent, and worldly peace weakens the vigor of the soul." - Peter Abelard

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Working On A Miracle

This story was originally published in the July 21st issue of The Wellesley Townsman.

The Massachusetts Miracles' Barbara Cherecwich, left, sets a pick on Wellesley's Jane Mooney, center, for Colleen Barton, right, during Saturday's practice at Regis College in Weston. Wicked Local photo by Sean Browne.
WELLESLEY, Mass. - - The Massachusetts Miracles senior women’s three on three basketball team started out with two basketball novices and one registered cyclist competing in the 2006 Massachusetts Senior Games. 

Five years later, the Miracles are national champions.

On June 19, the team founded and coordinated by Wellesley resident Jane Mooney defeated the Colorado Long Shots, 39-26, to claim the gold medal in the 50-plus age bracket at the 2011 National Senior Games in Houston.

The five members of the championship team are Barbara Cherecwich of North Attleboro, Kris Krablin of Stow, Megan Ladd of Stoneham, Tina Quick of Winchester, and June Walton, from East Hartford, Conn.

“It was fabulous,” said Krablin. “I think it his you more a week later. It was really a great time, especially as we were getting into the last few minutes of the game. For me, I’ve been playing in sports for a very long time, and this is the first time I’ve won a championship.”

Though winning the gold was a thrill for these athletes, they have now directed their competitive fire toward securing greater awareness for their sport, long neglected by the general public, and doubly handicapped by the age and gender of its participants.

The Team

The Miracles, made up of roughly 20 New England women all over the age of 50, come to the game of basketball from almost every conceivable angle. Krablin, for example, grew up with a hoop in her backyard, was a star athlete in high school and college, and says the game is “in her blood.” Mooney, on the other hand, never even played sports or picked up a basketball until she was over 50.

“We come from all different walks of life,” said Mooney. ”We have lawyers, teachers, all kinds of professional women on the team, and they all come together on the basketball court. It’s an exciting thing.”

The team actually consists of women who participate in two different age brackets, 50-plus and 55-plus, and Mooney said the Miracles are currently building a 6o-plus team too. The Miracles play in 8 to 12 State Games up and down the East Coast every year and, of course, the National Senior Games, which happen once every two years. The women practice together at Regis College in Weston once a week.

Krablin described the 50-plus team’s style of play as very aggressive and centered on a ferocious defense that tries to take advantage of the transition game inherent in three on three, half-court play. Madeline “Mal” Lannin-Cotton, who plays in the 55+ bracket, said her team is still working on developing a distinctive style of play, but works well together, utilizing a lot of screens and pick and rolls.
The Miracles’ 55-plus team, which has nine members, including Cotton and Mooney, placed 7th out of 18 teams at the same Houston games, which Cotton described as a “great accomplishment.”

The Game

The Miracles have no delusions of grandeur. Mostly, they play for sparse crowds at modest events, and even have to cover their own travel expenses for tournaments. All that said, many members of the team feel that the attention and awareness that they receive does not match up with the increasingly high level of athleticism and competition they see in their sport.

“It’s sort of this hidden thing,” said Mooney. “There are a lot of people involved in this and until you become a part of it you don’t realize how much activity there is in this sport at the senior level.”

“Senior athletics should absolutely get more coverage. The effort that the athletes put in, you’re sometimes talking about athletes in their eighties and nineties, it’s just phenomenal. We need to find ways to make it more visible. Many of us really just stumbled on this. I was 53 when I heard about it,” said Krablin.

When Title IX was enacted in 1972, it opened up funding and thus greater awareness and participation in women’s high school and college athletics. Many of the current members of the Miracles just missed the effects of Title IX, but they are seeing younger women filtering in nowadays that have been playing sports competitively for their whole lives.

“I think that women’s basketball has progressed tremendously in the past few years” said Krablin.

The Gold, and The Future

Though the 50-plus segment of the Miracles were undefeated, both in pool play and the medal round, the games were not without intense moments.

The Miracles downed their archrivals, the Maine Triple Threat, by a score of 42-30 in the first round. The Miracles also defeated teams from Arizona, Texas, Arkansas, Nevada, and Tennessee en route to their first national championship.

Only a few weeks later, the Miracles are back at work, practicing together for several hours a week during the summer.

“Of course we’re practicing,” said Mooney. “We have tournaments in the fall and we don’t want to get rusty. Plus, we have a championship to defend.”

You can find out more about the Miracles' run to the title, and the National Senior Games, which featured over 10,000 athletes this year, at www.nsga.com.

The Miracles work on their shooting at Saturday's practice. Wicked Local photo by Sean Browne.

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