By David Ford
For the last 25 years, a men’s adult basketball league has met every Thursday during the winter and spring from 8 to 10 p.m. at the Liberty Church of God of Prophecy in Girard.
The age of the participants widely varies. The youngest of the participants is around 14 years, while the oldest is 71.
The group originally started playing recreational sports in the form of softball, but needed something to occupy their time during the harsh Ohio winters.
Thomas McCullough, a 61 year-old Youngstown State University alumni and resident of Howland, said that a group of his co-workers and friends came up with the idea of playing basketball when they came upon a church with a facility to do it.
“We started playing softball together and then someone in the group recommended playing basketball,” McCullough said. “We said why not. It’s a great way to stay in shape during the winter and fun activity to do.”
Although the pickup games are fun for the group, some of the games get heated and fierce. Each game is played up to seven points, one point for any shot. Each team also plays with four players on each side, all with different skill sets.
“Some players can pass like [John] Stockton, rebound like [Dennis] Rodman and shoot like [Larry] Bird,” McCullough said. “We have a guy we call the garlic man, who can still move around well and play defense despite his old age. It’s a great time. We all have fun.”
McCullough has been in charge of the small adult league since it formed. Some people come and go, while others have stayed since the league first started.
Myron Matthews, 54, has been attending the league since it formed, even introducing his son, Andrew, a business student at YSU, to the league. More than half of the members, including Myron, either attended or still attend YSU.
“Not only do I have to deal with my co-workers at work but I get the chance to play against some of them on Thursday,” Myron said. “We all get along well and enjoy playing the game.”
Andrew Matthews, 20, was glad his dad introduced him to the league. He said that basketball has always been a passion of his and often spends hours upon hours outside trying to improve his shot, irritating some neighbors late at night because of it.
“I’ve always loved the game of basketball, so I’m glad my dad introduced me,” Andrew Matthews said. “It’s been a blast since I started coming regularly.”
Although each shot counts for only one point, it encourages each team to pass a lot and look for inside shots. A lot of the members are old fashioned, meaning crisp passes and easy layups are the name of the game.
McCullough said that the young people who come typically shoot deep shots, but with practice and guidance, they can learn a lot about how the game was played back in the day.
“I always shoot a lot of deep shots since that’s what a lot of the kids these days do,” Andrew Matthews said. “But playing with these guys has encouraged me to develop a sense of fundamental basketball.”
Each person attending is encouraged to donate $5 to the end of the year party at Inner Circle Pizza in Youngstown.
Several members expressed that this league was a great way to stay healthy and in shape at their age, which is why a majority of the members continue to come back every year.
“A lot of us here like to get the exercise and stay healthy,” McCullough said. “For the several weeks we play, we like to treat ourselves at the end of the year with some beers, wings and pizza.”
Most of the members expressed optimism that the league will continue on long into the future.