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Well Being: Basketball puts a bounce in their steps

Stop by the Bala Gym some Sunday morning this winter between 9 and 11, and you'll hear the squeak of sneakers, the bouncing of a basketball, the clang of a hoop, the swish of a net - the wonderful sound of men at play.

Stop by the Bala Gym some Sunday morning this winter between 9 and 11, and you'll hear the squeak of sneakers, the bouncing of a basketball, the clang of a hoop, the swish of a net - the wonderful sound of men at play.

Inside, you'll see the players are men of a certain age, with bald pates, graying and thinning hair, knees wrapped in fortifying elastic bandages. They are the merrily addicted members of the Old Guys Basketball Association (OGBA).

"I'm the young guy, quips Gary Scheiner, 47, a diabetes educator from Belmont Hills. "I haven't had my bypass yet."

Most of the men are in their 50s and early 60s. They have borne their share of heath problems: open-heart surgery, rotator-cuff surgery, colon-cancer surgery, surgery to free up a frozen shoulder. They have achy backs and knees, cranky tendons and joints, jammed, bent fingers. During games, they have pulled muscles, been gashed and bloodied, but they play on regardless, for the exercise, the stress relief, the camaraderie, the sheer joy of it.

You won't see any spectacular vertical leaps or slam dunks. The players range in height from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-1. Most have played basketball since they were kids, in pickup games in streets, parks, and playgrounds, and on intramural teams in high school and college. Most, if not all, are Jewish; many are members of Adath Israel in Merion Station; all have a passion for the game.

"I love the game," says Marc Goldberg, 62, a toy manufacturer and marketing consultant who lives in the Green Hill Farms section of Overbrook. "There's a lot of give and take, making quick decisions on the court."

Goldberg, an ace shooter, is an anomaly in that he played varsity basketball at Central High and Swarthmore. He's been an OGBA member for 15 years.

"Each season, I say to myself, 'This is the last,' " he reflected while sitting out for a few minutes after getting poked in the eye. "But I can't stay away.

"At our age, winning isn't so important. It's just a great feeling when the ball goes through the basket, or you make an effective pass or manage to steal the ball."

The association began about 21 years ago at an outdoor court in Belmont Hills, says Glenn Unterberger, 61, a founding member and its commissioner (also known as "The Commish").

He schedules the games and tries to create evenly matched teams. Occasionally, a father will show up with a ringer - his teenage or 20-something son - full of vim and vigor.

"They may be quicker, but they're not smarter," Unterberger says.

The association was founded because there was "a lack of guy stuff to do while our wives were busy at the synagogue on Sunday mornings," says Unterberger, a lawyer.

The team still plays outdoors at a full-length court in Gladwyne in the fall and spring (they take summers off). In the winter, they seek the shelter of the Bala Gym, where the court is about two-thirds the length of a standard court (hence, no three-point line). About 15 men participate in the association, including four original members.

Games are played to 15, and a basket earns a point. A team must win by two. Players rotate in and out every five points. Egregious fouls are rare, because, as Sheldon Pollack, 61, of Merion Station, notes, "Everyone's a gentleman." When a foul is committed, the offended team keeps the ball. In two hours, the OGBA squeezes in three games.

"We're all at the point where we can't run with the 30-year-olds," says Pollack, a law professor. "Two-and-a-half hours on a small court is enough." Still, he says, "if I can hang in there, I'd like to play till I'm in my 70s."

On a recent Sunday, Burt Rublin, 59, a lawyer from Wynnewood and a 15-year member, was wearing a T-shirt that proclaimed: "The Older I Get, the Better I Was." Before and after every game, Rublin takes two Advils.

"I've been in leagues where every single play a foul is called. You have guys who shoot first and pass second. Here, we pass a lot. It's old-school basketball, with lots of picks and screens. You get to use your basketball IQ."

Scheiner works out often, so he's ready to play Sunday, his "favorite part of the week."

"It's a nice combination of playing to win and playing for fun," says Scheiner, a nine-year member. "Nobody gets angry. Nobody yells. There's no standout star, and everybody is on the same plane athletically. That makes the games much more interesting."