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These 'Grannies' Are Trying To Reignite The Basketball Border War

Ryan Hennessy
KCUR 89.3

The old rivalry between Missouri and Kansas is getting a new injection of energy from the Granny Basketball League. After its first year of competition, the series is tied at 1-to-1 but the go-ahead game takes place this Saturday in Jefferson City.

The original “Border War,” or “Bleeding Kansas,” was a bloody precursor to the Civil War, but modern day quibbles took place on the athletic field between the universities of Kansas and Missouri. Basketball games between the two ended in 2012.

The first Granny Basketball League tournament was played in Iowa in 2005, and quickly spread throughout the Midwest.

“This is a blooming rivalry,” says the coach of the Lawrence-based Prairie Storm, Michele Clark. She was introduced to the league while playing on Missouri’s team, the Shooting Stars.

“I moved to Kansas, in the Topeka area, for a job and family and I was granny-less,” she says. Following in James Naismith’s footsteps, she started the Kansas franchise.

“They’re coming in as the Kansas Prairie Storm, they'll go home as the prairie drizzle,” says former Missouri player Lura McAllister, tongue in cheek.

Credit Photo courtesy of Barb Trammell
The games provide players with more than just a diversion. "I wanted a way to exercise but I didn't like doing anything,” says Founder Barb Trammell, “except that back in the day I loved playing basketball.”

The two spoke recently with Steve Kraske, host of KCUR’s Up To Date.

Their game is different than collegiate or professional matches, and not just because players are required to be at least 50 years old.

“It'll be the 6-on-6 game,” says Clark. “We'll be playing with 1920s-style rules: two guards, two forwards, and two centers.”

The court is split into three sections with guards, forwards and centers restricted to their respective section. There’s no running, touching, nor jumping, explains Granny League President Barb Trammell.

“Basically all you do is dribble twice, pass the ball to the next person until it gets down to the forwards, and then the forwards shoot,” she says.

There’s a wide range of ages represented on the court, says Clark. One Kansas forward is 84 years old, but “she has a pretty wicked hook shot.”

“Just because they can't run, touch, jump, doesn't mean they don't [try to] once they get on that court,” said McAllister, who is now a league referee. “They're very competitive. They come for fun, but anytime you get people playing against each other they want to win.”

Credit Photo courtesy of Barb Trammell
The rules are a little different than the modern game. A successful "granny shot" is worth 3 points from anywhere on the court.

The original goal of the league was to raise money to preserve a historic building in Lansing, Iowa.

The league has maintained those charitable roots. The 200 teams have raised over $200,000 for a wide range of charities.

Trammell, who founded the league, says the game’s style goes back to her father, who coached girl’s basketball in the 1940s and 50s. He described the three-court-game to her when she was a girl.

Despite the somewhat restrictive rules, spectators love it, says Trammell. “People just hang from the rafters to watch them.”

Ryan Hennessy is an intern for KCUR's Up To Date.