For Kansas and Missouri 'women of a certain age,' Granny Basketball is about 'feeling empowered'
Two teams based in Olathe, Kansas, will play in the Granny Basketball national tournament this weekend in Decorah, Iowa. Organizers aim to foster camaraderie, sportsmanship and 'a gentle game' for women over age 50.
Tammy Agey remembers fondly her days of basketball glory in Independence, Missouri, when her 1984 St. Mary’s Trojans advanced to the Missouri state basketball semifinals with a 29-0 record.
“It was so fun and exciting,” said Agey, known in those days as Tammy Siebermorgan. “Not only as the team, but the whole school and the community.”
It’s part of why, decades later, Agey started playing Granny Basketball, a six-on-six game for women over 50 that’s catching on around the Midwest. (You aren’t required to be a grandmother to play.)
This weekend, two teams based in Olathe — the Kansas Sunflowers and Kansas Cougars — will play at the Granny Basketball League’s 20-team national tournament in Decorah, Iowa.
Agey will be there, too, playing for a team where she lives now, in Des Moines, Iowa.
After growing accustomed to the fast-paced style at St. Mary’s in high school, Agey had to adjust to the Granny rules aimed at making the game a bit more gentle: Two players from each team are required to stay in their third of the court.
“Yeah, it was a little transition,” she said. “A lot of learning I had to do in that first year and a half.”
Granny hoops roots
The nonprofit Granny Basketball was founded in 2005. Executive Director Michele Clark, of Berryton, Kansas, oversees the league and enforces its rules. She also plays for the Kansas Sunflowers.
Like the plant, Clark said the league is growing every year.
“We’re just getting contacts all the time from new women wanting to join the league,” said Clark. “They hear about Granny Basketball, they want to learn more, they want to be a part of it. So we try to connect them with teams in their area.”
Kansas has nine teams, second most only to Iowa, with 14. Kansas’ Southern Division also includes teams from Oklahoma and Texas, and it’s not uncommon for them to cross state borders to play. The league now includes 42 teams in 10 states.
That spread means players like Agey can meet, compete, and make friends with others from around the region — a social boost she has learned to appreciate at this stage of her life.
“It’s kind of fun as we travel to a couple different tournaments and see the teams year-round,” she said. “You grow to (appreciate) these friendships from afar.”
As one of the younger “Grannies,” Agey was fortunate enough to play high school basketball sanctioned by the Missouri State High School Activities Association.
Others, like Kathi Mitchell, didn’t play sanctioned high school sports until Title IX was passed in 1972.
“I was one of those that went every year of my high school years to (Cedar Rapids) school board meetings to appeal for sanctioned women’s teams,” said Mitchell, the national tournament organizer at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
“In fact, I coached a group of six of us in track and we competed in districts,” she added. “I had a state (qualifying time) … but was not allowed to run because we weren’t a sanctioned team.”
Mitchell got hooked on Granny basketball when she was recruited several years ago by a colleague at Luther College.
“It’s just fun!” Mitchell said. “Not only with the fun, there’s a little bit of nostalgia along with it.”
The Cedar Rapids Sizzlers are defending their Granny Basketball national title this weekend in Iowa. The team’s coach, Diana Marker, says competition in the league is getting stiffer because of growth in areas like Kansas City.
“Women are feeling empowered to do what they really enjoy — I think that’s it,” said Marker. “Women are thinking: ‘So what if I’m 50. I can still do this.’”
Women’s basketball dates back more than 120 years and Granny Basketball uniforms give a nod to the standard look in the 1920s, with pinnies resembling sailor tops, long black bloomers and knee-high socks.
Grannies risk being called on a “technical flesh foul” for any exposed flesh below the neck.
The uniforms sometimes garner sarcastic comments, but Agey doesn’t let it stop her from wearing them.
Instead, she’s already looking forward to next year’s homecoming, when the national tournament is in Kansas City, Kansas. Three of the last four tournaments have been in Kansas or Missouri.
“I venture down there about once a month every couple months,” said Agey. “Some of my high school peeps, we still get together, and do things together.”
Unlike the days when St. Mary’s dominated their opponents, Agey has discovered these Grannies can play, and the wins don’t come easy.
The 2023 National Granny Basketball Tournament will take place July 14-16 at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. For more information, visit to GrannyBasketball.com.