For Danbury area ‘Geezers,’ playing basketball makes them ‘feel like we’re in junior high school’

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

DANBURY — When Danbury resident Steve Howard was planning his 80th birthday celebration several weeks ago, there was no doubt what topped his list — playing basketball with the “Geezers,” he said.

The Geezers is a group of about 20 older men in the Danbury area who have played basketball several times a week, year round — for over 20 years. While they play for fun and fitness, they say the game also serves as a fountain of youth.

“We feel like we’re in junior high school,” said Danbury resident Dennis Macauley, 73. “We’re always kidding around with each other.”

The Geezers play at the Danbury War Memorial.

“It’s an interesting cross section of guys,” said New Milford resident Rich Sacks, 72. While most have retired, prior careers include an engineer, nurse, painter, writer, accountant, factory foreman, actor, and a clinical psychologist — who the guys joked should return to the game since he would help resolve conflicts.

Some are unemployed while others have earned a PhD.

Once the game begins, however, everyone is on an equal playing field.

“One of the great joys is when you’re playing, you don’t think about anything else,” Macauley said. “You can have problems in dealing with various issues, and for two or three hours, you don’t have those issues anymore. Then you go in the locker room and you make jokes like you did when you were a kid.”

About half the men played on their high school teams and a few played college ball, while others never had any formal instruction and learned the rules of the game from one another.

Some of the older members have slowed down quite a bit, while the “kids,” who are in their 50s, haven’t as much, Sacks said.

“Some can still run and jump, and we try to avoid them as much as possible,” Sacks joked. “It’s a balancing act between the armchairs and the gazelles who are not much faster than stuffed toys but still, they are much faster than the rest of us.”

When there are too many players for a game, the guys may have to sit one out — and Sacks — who said he considers himself to be very competitive — said he doesn’t like that too much.

“But, it’s still fun because you sit on the sidelines and you heckle — I heckle — but no one pays much attention,” Sacks joked.

Sacks said the exhaustion he gets after a game “is wonderful.”

“The mystery of whether we’ll survive is also wonderful,” Sacks added, jokingly.

Making memories

As the weeks turned to years and the years turned to decades, the Geezers made — and continue to make — memories together they’ll likely never forget, Sacks said.

Several years ago, Howard accidentally gave Macauley a shiner the day before he had to host a formal function.

“It was a fundraiser at the Matrix Conference & Banquet Center. I sold two tables full of people coming to this event. I had the opportunity to sit with the speaker,” Macauley said. “The day before the event, I was going for a lay up and Steve was guarding me. Instead of blocking it with an open hand, he blocks it with a fist, and he swings at the ball and knocked me in the face. I had this big purple mouse under my eye the size of a golf ball.”

There were some tough times the group went through, such as when one of the guys got prostate cancer. The others were very supportive of him during his recovery, and some helped guide him through the medical process, Sacks said.

Getting through the pandemic

The Geezers originally played most of the year at Bethel Parks & Recreation, and in the summers at the war memorial. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Bethel facility had closed and the men stopped playing for over a year.

Howard said the Geezers is what motivated him to get through the pandemic.

“When COVID came, I kept saying to myself, ‘I got to stay healthy so I can play basketball again.’ I made it my goal,” he said.

In the spring, Richter Park in Danbury opened up and Howard began going there four or five days a week.

“I started shooting around and I got the group together and once they lifted the mask mandate and it started getting to be fall, we moved to the war memorial,” said Howard, who is the self-designated leader of the Geezers.

All Howard’s practicing paid off — the others say he’s a much more aggressive and confident player than he had been five or even 10 years ago.

“Steve has developed new skills, and particularly in shooting, has gotten much better,” Sacks said.

Staying fit

Macauley said when he’s playing with the Geezers, he feels like a kid “100 percent mentally” and “50 percent physically.”

“You really feel invigorated after having played — especially after having played a few good shots,” he joked.

He said playing with the Geezers “is the single most fun thing that I do by a long shot. I can go and spend $500 for a New York City play — but in terms of fun, honestly, this is it.”

The Geezers said they plan to keep playing as long as they’re physically able to do so.

“If you never stop moving, you don’t have to stop,” Macauley said.

The Geezers are accepting new members. There’s no need to sign up in advance. The only requirements are to be over 50, vaccinated, and a member of the Danbury War Memorial, 1 Memorial Drive. Players pay the War Memorial $1 each time.

sfox@milfordmirror.com 203-948-9802