Loving the game

Ronnie Jett, 68, dribbles the ball down the floor as he is guarded by Wes Pence, 49, of Edinburg. Jett has been playing in the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation basketball league for 51 years. Rich Cooley/Daily

There have been times when Ronnie Jett considered retiring from the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation men’s basketball league, but something always keeps him coming back for more.

Jett has had plenty of good reasons. One year he broke his leg and thought about getting out, another year he finally won a championship title and thought about going out on top. At 68  and in his 51st season, Jett is as happy as ever to still be playing the game he loves.

“I still enjoy it,” Jett said earlier this week. “I thought about giving it up last year, but I still enjoy it. How long am I going to keep going? I don’t know, but I am planning on coming back next year, again.”

Jett started playing in the league in 1964 as a 16-year old sophomore Central High School student.

He said back then players only had to be 16 — now it’s 18. He first played for Toms Brook for his first two years, and then he switched to the Tastee-Freez team.

Ronnie Jett, of Woodstock, aims for the basket. Rich Cooley/Daily

In 1968 he decided to have his own team in the league. Originally, his team was called Mix-N-Match. Eventually, Jett said he got tired of changing the name due to different sponsors and settled on Ronnie’s Rockets, which has been the team’s name for over 20 years now.

Jett said that one of his nicknames in high school was “Rocket” because of how fast he was and it stuck with him. Jett said there were only six teams in the league in 1968, now there are 22.

The biggest change Jett has seen has been the addition of the 3-point shot, which came along in the mid-1980s.

“The 3-point shot really changed everything,” Jett said. “I personally don’t like it, but it’s part of the game. You’ve got to have players that can shoot it.”

While Jett said he enjoys playing, he also enjoys the coaching aspect as much as anything.

He said it’s very rewarding being a coach. In 1997, he decided to switch things up and go to a run-n-gun type offense. His team went 11-1 and missed being undefeated by 3 points. Jett said that they lost in the first round of the playoffs but it was still  rewarding to see the team come together.

In 2004, his team won its first championship. After finishing the regular season 7-7, it knocked off three strong teams in the playoffs, including the top seeds that were 15-1.

“That was really satisfying,” Jett said. “When you work hard for something like that it makes it a little bit special.”

Jett said he doesn’t play as much as he used to, but he still enjoys getting out there and competing against some of the younger players.

Throughout the years he’s been able to keep most of the same players on his team. He said most of the time if they leave the team, it’s usually because they’ve decided to retire from playing.

“I try to be fair with everybody,” Jett said. “When I started out I didn’t get to hardly play at all, and I made up my mind when I decided to get a team, I was going to let everybody play. I don’t really go for big superstar players.  I try to get players that work good with our team and work with them.

“I try to make it enjoyable.”

Jett said he’s had players play for him for 15-30 years.

Certainly other players throughout the league have taken notice of the longevity of Ronnie’s Rockets. Fellow Shenandoah County recreation league player Davis Rosen noted,  “The thing I’ll say about Ronnie is that he’s very loyal to his players. You never see anybody leave his team and go play with somebody else. Once somebody gets on his team, they’re on his team, and he’s been doing this a long, long time.”

This season Jett said he added three new players to the team, which is a lot for Ronnie’s Rockets. Things have gone smoothly, and the team finished the regular season 8-4 and in fourth place in Division III. His team has had a winning record 10 of the last 11 seasons.

Ronnie’s Rockets will start playoffs next week, after having a bye this weekend.

“Our tourney is just so hard to win,” Jett said. “There’s always upsets. I think we got as good as shot as anybody. Our division is really balanced — lot of good teams.”

Jett and his team has been a fixture in the league, and last year he was given a plaque by the league in honor of his 50th year.

Even when this season is done, Jett will just be getting started. He also plays in a 37-and-over Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation men’s basketball league.

Jett said he doesn’t get tired of playing, because he loves the game.

“I don’t do anything all summer, so by the fall I’m really getting anxious to play,” Jett said.

Jett said he used to play baseball in the Apple Valley Baseball League, and was one of the founding members of the team.

He said he loves baseball and football, but basketball has stuck with him through the years.

“It’s an exciting sport to play,” Jett said. “There’s so much strategy to it. Each week I’ve got to figure out how to defense a team. I enjoy all of that. Just doing that every week — it’s different.”

Jett said his family is also very involved. His wife is at almost every game, and has been his statistician. His daughter also is at most every game, and now her husband is on the team this season.

“It’s been a family affair for us,” Jett said. “And it’s enjoyable. The games are on Sunday. It’s like it’s our family time.”

Jett said his wife helped talk him into staying in the league after he won the championship in 2004.

“I almost gave it up then,” Jett said. “My wife told me you’ll be miserable without it. Here I am still at it.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com