Monday nights are for basketball in Harpers Ferry.
That’s when a close-knit group of women known as the Harpers Ferry Fireflies gather to shoot hoops and spend time together.
The Fireflies, along with their coach, recently won the 2021 Granny Basketball® National Championship, held in Prairie du Chien, Wis. It’s the team’s fourth title in six years.
A brief history
Granny Basketball has its roots in Lansing. Barb McPherson Trammell got a group of friends together in 2005 to play an exhibition game to raise money to preserve an old, historic building. The exhibition used vintage girls’ basketball regulations, with three courts, dated costumes and very different rules. From there, the league bloomed into four teams, with a Granny Basketball State Tournament. More media coverage led to more teams joining, blossoming into several states.
Teams play with five or six women on the court at a time, with two guards, two forwards and at least one center. All players must be at least 50 years old. The court is divided into three, and players can’t move out of their area. There is no running or jumping and no physical contact or “hovering.” Three points are scored for an underhanded shot, with two points for others and one for free throws. Players must wear 1920s style uniforms, with no bare legs or upper arms revealed.
Bill Nation is the head coach of the Fireflies. He’s been with the squad since its founding over 10 years ago. He said since the first practice, the women have been passionate about getting better, logging lots of time on the court.
“We’re like a club and all I do is coach. The girls run the whole show themselves. They’re in charge of where they go and what we do,” he said.
Seasons start in January with a jamboree in Cedar Rapids and run through the winter and spring with league games. They play 8-12 games during the season before the Iowa State Tournament in June, in conjunction with the Iowa Senior Games. A month later is nationals.
The Fireflies have been on a roll, winning the national title in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and taking the runner-up spot in 2019. There was no tournament in 2020.
The Fireflies hosted the 2021 tournament in Prairie du Chien. Eight teams traveled to the area to compete in the two-day tournament. The first day the Fireflies played three games in their pool. Saturday, they won their semifinal and defeated No. 1-seed Cedar Rapids Sizzlers in the finals to take the title.
“They’re pretty good. It’s always them or us. If we don’t win it they do,” said Nation. “We beat them in the finals and that’s always special when we beat them.”
All about the women
The members of the Fireflies are more than just basketball players. They’ve become a family.
“Our team is really a close team. We practice every Monday. Part of us go out to eat supper every Monday night after it’s over. We do birthdays every month. It’s just been a great experience to be a part of this team and a part of Granny Basketball,” said Georgia Jones, president of the Granny Basketball league. Jones has been on the Fireflies for 10 years, saying she’s always loved basketball.
“We always have a lot of fun no matter where we go to play basketball. But we like to win too. We play hard, we stay busy. We have some great players on our team.”
For nine-year veteran Judy Kelly, being a part of the team means spending more time with her family. Her younger sister lives an hour away and comes to play for the Fireflies. Having family near was one of the things that made this year’s championship extra special.
“We had a lot of people cheering for us. It was great to see some of our friends and family in the audience. Usually when we travel we might have 1 or 2 fans, a spouse or something, but it was good to have a lot of friends and neighbors there,” she said.
Rosanne Wicks joined the team recently. She used to play for Lansing’s squad before it disbanded. She joined the league because her mom played, and she wanted to get on the court with her.
“When she was in high school in Waukon, they didn’t play basketball because it was too strenuous on the women, so they played intramural outside for recess. When she saw that Granny Basketball was beginning to be played, she signed up,” said Wicks.
Margaret Hermeier will be 81 in September and has been playing with the Fireflies for 10 years.
“I played basketball for Waterville High School back in 1956-1958, and I loved it,” she said. “I lost my husband, and I needed something to occupy my time, and they said to come play Granny Basketball, so I came. I love it. It’s not only basketball. I love the ladies. We’re one big family.”
Linda Mahr has been with the team for eight years. Prior to her joining the squad, they had never won a game. Now, she says the team is playing in-sync.
“We just had a blast. Everyone was playing good together,” she said. “It was fun to be able to be here and show the people in our area what we do.”
After a year away from the court due to COVID, Sherry Adney said it was the cherry on top to get the title so close to home this year.
“We kind of really missed last year of us just getting together. We’re a close-knit team,” she said. “It was wonderful playing close to our own hometown. It was a lot of working putting it together, but things ran very smoothly.”
Continuing the game
Nation said the team is always looking for more players and more teams to join the league.
“I encourage teams all over that if they want to get started, get in touch with us. We need to get teams started here and there and everywhere, and if we can help them, we’ll help them,” said Nation. “All you need is 10 gals, a gym and a basketball.”