It took 80 years, but members of the McMinnville Lady Bulldogs have decided to retire from competitive basketball.
The group of senior ladies called it quits after the National Senior Games last week in Cleveland, Ohio. The Lady Bulldogs earned a fourth-place finish in the tournament and leave celebrated careers with two national titles over the past 12 years.
“At 80 years old, it’s time to slow down,” said Jo An Cantrell, one of four team members. “We like the basketball, but we’ll miss each other more than anything. I never dreamed I’d be playing this long.”
Other team members are Blanche Cook, 84, Wanda Shanks, 80, and Carolyn Lance, 79. All are from Warren County except for Shanks, who lives in Buffalo Valley.
“We’ve enjoyed playing ball together,” said Cook. “It got harder every year, especially for me at 84. They have four or five more years before they figure that out.”
Added Lance, “I don’t want to play with anyone else so we’re going out together. It was a great run.”
The women got their start on the basketball court as young ladies. Cook played for Central High School in the late 1940s, while Lance and Cantrell played together on the same team at Central in the early 1950s.
The ladies began playing together as seniors in 2001 at the Tennessee state tournament. By 2003, they were good enough for their first national tournament in Virginia. The National Senior Games are held every other year.
The Lady Bulldogs won national titles in 2009 in California and in 2011 in Texas.
The fourth-place finish this year came despite much adversity. For starters, Cook didn’t even make the trip to Cleveland because of the health of her husband, Clayton.
She said being away from him for nearly a week, or having him make the trip, were two options that were not possible.
To add to the team’s troubles, Cantrell was injured during the final practice before the trip to nationals. Her feet got tangled up during a play and she fell to the floor, hitting her head hard. The injury caused extensive bleeding and forced her to play more tentatively.
Once tournament play began, Lance suffered a hamstring injury early in the very first game. She was forced to hobble around at half speed the entire tournament.
Considering all those factors, the Lady Bulldogs still managed to go 2-3 at nationals.
“We were playing some new, fresh teams that were just coming up into the age group so we did pretty good,” said Cantrell.
Because Lance is 79, the Lady Bulldogs had to compete in the 75-79 age division even though the other team members are 80 or older.
Teams compete in 3-on-3 format and play half court. Most of the action takes place inside the 3-point line. Games are 24 minutes long with 12 minutes per half.