Senior hoops league thrives in 1st year

Larry Fauci is proud that he's still fit enough to cut his own firewood and mow his lawn. At 69, he is simply looking for things that will help keep him in shape.

"If I can't do all this," he said, "then I need to go find a rocking chair."

A Cornelius resident, Fauci has played in the Lake Norman-area senior softball league for three years.

Senior softball in the Lake Norman area had its origins in 2006, when players started to gather to hold informal workouts. It evolved into the Ralph Lambert Senior Softball League of Lake Norman, named for its founding member. Today it has grown to eight teams.

But at the end of the fall season, after the final pitch was thrown, Fauci, like many senior athletes, was relegated to the bench when it came to finding competitive sports to play.

Now, with the inaugural Huntersville Parks and Recreation Senior Basketball League thriving, men and women 40 and older have a sport to get them through the winter months. A month into its first season, the league has more than 40 players on four teams.

A minimum age of 50 is what supporters of a senior basketball league first proposed. But when Huntersville Parks and Recreation administrators first put out feelers for the league, there weren't enough players 50 and older interested in forming a league. Dropping the minimum age to 40 approximately doubled the number of interested players.

Prospective players put their talents on display in early November to allow Parks and Recreation officials Dave White and Josh Brock to subjectively place players on teams. Skill level was a determining factor in how rosters were shaped; White and Brock also tried to place an equal number of post players and guards on each team.

Each of the four teams has a player-coach and one female player. The teams are identified only by the color of the T-shirts provided to them for game play.

Fauci is a 5-foot 8-inch point guard for the "red" team. A veteran of high school basketball in the 1950s, Fauci is easily one of the senior league's most senior members. And he just may lead the league in knee replacement surgeries, with two.

"I've had 11 knee operations since 1974," he said. "Six on my right, five on my left. Numbers 10 and 11 gave me knee replacements. They were all sports related injuries, skiing and basketball."

The pace at which the senior league games are played, though, still allows Fauci to help his team. Games are played under high school rules with some modifications, including operating a running clock and allowing for free substitutions.

Standing on the sideline after a recent game at Huntersville Elementary and answering questions about the league, blue team player/coach Fred Gregory pointed to a very capable 40-something player on another team and called him "kid."

"When you're 66 (years old),"Gregory said, "you can do that."

Gregory, of Davidson, is a seasoned veteran of senior basketball. Having dual residency in North Carolina and New York, he is a past Senior Games three-on-three basketball state champion in both states.

After a loss in mid-December sent him and his teammates to an 0-2 start, Gregory was resigned that his blue team may be feeling blue for most of the season.

"In our first game, we played man-to-man (defense) and lost by 15 (points)," Gregory said. "Our second game, we played zone and lost by 11. So we think we've improved."

The inaugural 10-week season will conclude in early March and will be followed by a single-elimination postseason tournament.