WINCHESTER — As the old adage goes, age is just a number.
That holds true for the DMV East Coast Rockherstyle National Senior Games Men’s 50 Plus Basketball team, which, as the name suggests, is made up of men over the age of 50 from the Maryland, Washington, D.C., the Shenandoah Valley and various other places.
The team is set to take part in the 2018 National Senior Games starting Friday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Lloyd Willis, of Strasburg, is one of the players traveling to Albuquerque.
“You can’t live forever, but you can stay in shape,” he said. “I’ve been an athlete all my life. I try to inspire the younger people in the 35 to 40 range who have given up on basketball. When we first walked into a tournament, we saw these 90-year-old gentlemen playing basketball just as hard as we are. It was a huge inspiration for us.”
The 55-year-old Willis is no stranger to the National Senior Games scene. He, along with Stephens City resident Danny Maxwell, began playing in NSGA basketball tournaments in 2014 and played in tournaments in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. Willis and teammate Wesley Pence, of Edinburg, won gold in the men’s Division 2 tournament in the 50-plus-year-old age group at the 2017 games in Birmingham, Alabama.
“We have something to prove,” Willis said. “As we came back this year, we decided we had to pick up additional players.”
Willis said that the team recruited players who had played with Willis and his team in the past to help fill out this year’s roster. These players come from Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“They had huge respect for us and we had huge respect for them, so they picked us up,” he said. “Now, we’ve got a heck of a team going out to Albuquerque.”
Willis and Maxwell will represent their squad in the men’s 55 to 59 basketball tournament on Saturday. Willis and Maxwell will join Pence and Strasburg native Eric Wiseley for the men’s 50 to 54 basketball tournament on June 20. Maxwell said there will be nine players on the 50 to 54 team, while there will be six players on the 55 to 59 squad.
The 53-year-old Pence has been a lifelong athlete.
“Basketball, for me, has always been a stress reliever,” he said. “When you get away from work and out there on the court, you can just work off all of that stress.”
The 52-year-old Wiseley was originally recruited by Willis to join the team.
“I’ve stayed in pretty good shape over the years,” he said. “It was an opportunity to, instead of playing with younger guys, to go show what I can do against guys my own age.”
The 58-year-old Maxwell said what keeps him playing basketball is the competition and playing with people his own age.
“You can still play people ages 18 and up, but it’s not as fun as playing somebody your own age,” he said.
Aside from basketball, Willis will also be taking part in the triple jump event at the games on June 18. Willis said Glenville State College, where he owns the school’s triple jump record, will be his personal sponsor for the event. He said his goal is to finish in the top eight to get All-American status.
Willis and his teammates are setting their expectations high for this year’s games.
“We looked at the brackets and we know some of the teams because we played some of them back in 2017,” Wilis said. “We would like to medal. With expectations high, we’d love to get a gold medal, but we understand the circumstances. Some of these players have been playing together for 20 years. We really hope to medal.”