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Meet the Red Foxes: The 50+ senior women's basketball team taking North Carolina by storm

by Courtney Gisriel / / Source: TODAY

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In a quiet town one hour west of Charlotte, North Carolina, and in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, one of the fiercest women's basketball teams in the state takes the court every Saturday. They're fittingly called the Red Foxes — and all of them are over 50 years old.

For the past 12 seasons, the group of over 40 women, aged 50 to 82, get together four times a week to run drills and scrimmage against each other as they prepare to compete on the local, state and even national level.

"They really are coachable," the team's coach, Karen Isbell, 52, told TODAY. "I know how older women can be, and they reach that age and it's like, 'I am gonna do it my way' ... But they still will try to listen and try to do what I would like for (them) to do."

Isbell's mother, Jean Glass, 79, started playing basketball for the first time at age 69 when she joined the Red Foxes.

"I had watched a lot of basketball, but never played," Glass told TODAY.

Red Foxes North Carolina
These ballers have serious skills!TODAY

She described her first practice with the team as a bit of a doozy. "Runnin' around like a chicken with his head cut off. That's kinda how (I) was," Glass said, laughing at the thought.

The team, based in Hickory, North Carolina, draws women from four surrounding counties with a diverse range of experience and skill levels.

"When we get out on the court it makes no difference," Wanda Helton, 75, told TODAY.

Red Foxes First Team
Rachel Church, top row, second from the left, poses for a photo with the first Red Foxes team.Courtesy of Rachel Church

Rachel Church, the oldest player on the team at age 82 and one of the team's star recruiters, was on the very first Red Foxes team.

"It was 2006 when I saw an article in the newspaper," Church said. "I probably was the only one that saw it and responded to it, but I've been in recruiting mode ever since."

They don't turn anyone away from joining, but when Church is scouting talent at the local grocery store or beauty parlor, she's looking for ladies who can run a little bit.

Like any professional team, they've dealt with their fair share of injuries.

"We have one (player) who's had two hip replacements and I've had some arthroscopic surgery in my knee twice. I have a pacemaker ... And glaucoma," Church told TODAY. "My (physician) says, you know, 'You don't need to be doin' marathons, but you don't need to be sittin' in a rocker either.'"

"I had a little knee surgery," Helton said. "I really didn't stop playing, but the doctor did release me last Monday to play ... I told him, I said, 'Well I haven't really stopped.'"

The Red Foxes basketball team
The current Red Foxes team. Samantha Okazaki / TODAY

Despite the aches and pains of getting older, these women refuse to slow down.

"When I was young I never dreamed at the age of 75 that I would even be here," Helton said. "My image of old ladies were little old ladies with aprons and a bun. I never dreamed I would be out there bouncing balls and playing basketball and laughing like we laugh."

"I go each time expecting to be encouraged and expecting to encourage," Church said. "It happens every time."

This team is proof you can teach an old fox new tricks!

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