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Granny Shots

basketball league for “women of a certain age” keeps ladies active and having fun

Luc Anthony

The Harpers Ferry Fireflies
The Harpers Ferry Fireflies

I did not expect to discover I was related to a reigning national champion by going to a family reunion.

On a hot and sultry late-August day in 2018, I headed down to Rushford, Minnesota, to a mini-reunion of my mother’s side of my family. Among family members there was a first cousin once-removed, Margaret Hermeier of Waukon, Iowa. Sitting around the tables at the restaurant, I was told she was a recent national champion basketball player. She was also in her late-70s. What? 

What began as a way to get some exercise while wearing uniforms styled from the 1920s soon gained media attention. Teams have since sprouted primarily through the center of the country, including a few in the southern half of Wisconsin.

Considering my general lack of athletic ability, I was curious how sports could run strong in my genetics. There was another first cousin once-removed who played Division I-A college football, and my mother could throw a bit of a fireball in her youth, but I thought that was it. Hermeier was playing a sport I had never known: Granny Basketball. It’s a nationwide thing, and she’s playing on a dynasty.

The modern origin was in northeastern Iowa – not that far from Waukon – in 2005. What began as a way to get some exercise while wearing uniforms styled from the 1920s soon gained media attention. Teams have since sprouted primarily through the center of the country, including a few in the southern half of Wisconsin.

Hermeier got involved while looking for something to do after her husband’s passing, and a friend suggested they go visit a Waukon practice for a team based in nearby Harpers Ferry, Iowa. Having played 6-on-6 basketball in high school and being a basketball lover made her a natural.

This is a competitive league. “Most teams improve every year,” she says. “Everyone wants to win because winning is more fun than losing, however very few of the teams try to run the score up on the competition because it’s more fun when the games are close.” It’s a fun league as well, she adds, one that includes “meeting new people and finding out about their lives. Then staying in touch with them and seeing these new friends from all over the United States.”

The Harpers Ferry Fireflies are really good: So good that they dominated the latter-half of the 2010s, winning three-straight Granny Basketball National Championships from 2016-18. Winning it all left Hermeier “very excited, especially the first time.” She noted her surprise at how well the teams from throughout Iowa compete at the national level.

How did the Fireflies maintain that level of excellence? According to Hermeier, “After the first state tournament we competed in, we felt we were very competitive with any team. We haven’t changed our minds in the years since. The secret to our success has been the closeness of our team and competing as a whole team and not a partial team with ‘borrowed’ players.” The chemistry is apparent off the court. “They are wonderful ladies and so much fun to be with.”

Going back to the same family reunion last August, I met her again and discovered that the Fireflies’ championship streak had been snapped – they were merely national runners-up for 2019. Yet there is more Granny Basketball to be played, and my cousin isn’t stopping soon. She says she hopes to participate in the league as long as her health will allow: “I have played for seven years. I will be 80 next September.” Meanwhile, she and the rest of the Harpers Ferry team hits the hardwood in March for the 2020 season, and they plan to host the 2021 National Tournament in Prairie du Chien.

Perhaps Granny Basketball has piqued your interest; maybe you played the sport decades ago, or have a relative who did so. The closest teams are in Wanamingo, Minnesota, and down in La Crosse, but anyone can organize a team and bring the league to the Chippewa Valley. To be part of the action, one needs to be a woman over age 50 and, according to Hermeier, “interested in exercise, fun, and who wants to be part of a friendly group of people. We love meeting new friends with similar interests.” A love for traveling is also handy.

In the future, your relative may play my relative in the Granny Basketball National Championship Game. Good luck: All my family’s genes do is win.