Searching for a win, but finding fun

Three women’s basketball teams representing the Greater Hickory Metro competed in the state Senior Games during the weekend. They played a combined 11 games Friday and Saturday at East Carolina University’s student activity center, and they combined for zero wins.

The team wants that to change next year.

“We’re hoping some time in the future, whether it is next year or the next year, ultimately we want to win a game,” said Jesse McCarther, head coach of the three teams from the Unifour Red Foxes.

The Red Foxes are a group of 20 women ages 55-59, 65-69 or 70-74 from the Greater Hickory Metro with little or no experience with a basketball in their hands. The coach said almost all players on the 55-59 team have no experience in basketball, and they played at the Senior Games against teams that played together 10 years or more.

“It is very competitive, and we don’t have the experience yet,” McCarther said. “Last year, we lost three games by seven points. We had chances to win all three games, but our lack of experience did not help.”

Conover resident Jemmetta Eckard is one player familiar with the game. Eckard, 71, played recreation basketball while attending Bunker Hill and Oxford schools, and she had a full basketball court at her childhood home.

“Some teams have been playing together 15, 16, 17 years, so we are new to it,” she said. “I think we’ve done well.”

The teams at the North Carolina Senior Games play 3-on-3, half-court games with eight-minute halves with a game clock that doesn’t stop. The teams’ win-loss record could change when the Red Foxes go back to the North Carolina Senior Games in 2011, and one player is confident it will.

“I think we’ll win next year,” said Mary Glass, a third-year player on the 70-74 team. “It’s going to be wonderful. It’s going to be great because even when we got close, we were thrilled.”

Eckard said the Red Foxes recruit most of their players by just inviting them to join during one of the tri-weekly practices at Highland Recreation Center in Hickory. They played in 2009 with three players on three teams. That jumped to 20 players in 2010, and McCarther said two more committed to play in 2011.

Achieving victory, while still the goal, is not the most important thing to the Unifour Red Foxes or McCarther.

“At our age, it is not about winning and losing, it is about how you play the game as Vince Lombardi said,” he said. “There is just more to it than the game itself.”

Outside of practices and games, the team also gets together for group gatherings at each other’s homes or pool parties.

“It’s just a friendship among us,” Glass said. “Usually somebody will have a barbeque and invite all of us. We have great relationships outside of the game.”

The relationship with McCarther will continue as well. The head coach agreed to coach the three teams two years, and he recently renewed the commitment for another two.

“We’re learning, and we’re a work in progress, and I am not willing to give up,” he said. “Hopefully last year and this year, we did learn some of what we need to do to get that win, so it’s just a matter of commitment."