ALBURNETT, Iowa — It's just what you might expect a group of grandmothers from rural Iowa to be doing — four sisters — Dolores, Marjorie, Virginia and Arlene — catching up over their quilting. But get them on the basketball court and they pick up the pace.
"We play dirty — we're sisters!" says Marjorie.
Delores is a center for the Curvaceous Chicks, a team in the nation's first Granny Basketball League.
"She's going to be 82," Marjorie says, pointing at Delores, the most senior player in the league.
"I don't have any aches or pains or anything, and it just energizes you," Delores says.
For her sister, Virginia, who is 71 and has Parkinson's disease, it's a way to stay active.
"I wish I had half their energy," she says.
Barb McPherson, 62, started the league two years ago with about a dozen players. Barb wanted to keep herself and her friends active, but thought that the gym was too boring and bicycles hurt her rear end. Instead of prescribing a more conventional geriatric activity, she harkened back to her teenage years as a high school basketball player in rural Iowa, and founded the league.
"Yeah, we decided no rocking chairs for us," Barb says. "We're gonna die on the court!"
The roster has grown to nearly 100, and new teams are starting up in other states. For these gals, it's more than a social club, it's more than exercise — it's their great Midwestern American pastime. On the court they're equal.
"Everybody feels 16 when they get out here," Barb says.
But youth does have its limitations.
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The rules of the game have been "grannyfied" — their games are based on old-fashioned "girls" rules — six-on-six — three players on offense, three on defense, and the half-court line dividing the game into two. The grannies play a slightly modified version, though. There's no running, jumping or physical contact of any kind. And no showing too much skin — their uniforms are also a throwback.
The games are fundraisers, bringing in thousands of dollars for various charities. On the night of the Alburnett tournament, a handful of hard-core grannies drove two hours to raise money for new lights on the softball field at an athletic boosters event.
They're also part of a legacy here for many. Basketball has been a family affair, played by generations of Iowa women.
"I think that's what Iowa is known for," Barb says. "I mean, just about as much as corn!"
For the league's many fans, family and friends among them, it's a source of pride.
Although March Madness has come to an end, the grannies will be suiting up through the summer, even opening for the Harlem Globetrotters on April 15 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines.
NBC Research Assistant Amber Payne contributed to this report.
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