College Tennis in the Sixties
April 24, 2008 2:10 PM   Subscribe

"The women's tennis team at Grand Canyon University in Arizona has an unusual player this year — a 60-year-old named Sheila Johnson. She played for three years at Arizona State in the '60s, but still had one year of eligibility left." NPR story. Newspaper Article. Sports Illustrated Article. Picture of the team and Stats.

This story just made me feel good.
posted by wittgenstein (14 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
she's the best player on the team! oh man, this is a great story.
posted by shmegegge at 2:20 PM on April 24, 2008

Muy awesome. Glad to see she's not just a novelty player there to drum up interest in the program (Garth Brooks, anyone? Or Billy Crystal, for that matter), but is really an integral part of the team. Not to mention a great player, period: as the article notes, she's rated 2 (doubles, I believe) in her age group at the USTA level. That's pretty impressive in and of itself.
posted by librarylis at 2:31 PM on April 24, 2008

Great story. And I bet she can do a Triple Lindy, too!
posted by ericb at 2:37 PM on April 24, 2008

This is 9 kinds of awesome. Also, only because it happened recently (not an attempt to derail), did you know that, far and away, the best correspondent in the entire White House Press Corps just happens to be an 87 year old woman?

Bring it, sisters!
posted by psmealey at 2:40 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Nice story, thanks for the post.

Yep, Helen Thomas has been a hero of mine for years. She's hardcore.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:44 PM on April 24, 2008

15 years since graduation and I still have all of my eligibility left. I also still have all of my ability left. You can't fall off the floor.

There is something evil about athletic seniors.
posted by srboisvert at 2:45 PM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was a contractor living in Seattle in my late 20s/early 30s I played quite a lot of tennis at the Green Lake tennis courts, where there was quite a lot of competitive activity going on in the middle of the day, some of it even for money. I was a pretty fair player back then, reasonably competitive with division 1 college players, but not really spectacular by any means. At any rate, one fine day, I was just hanging around hitting some serves into an open court, waiting for a prospective hitting partner to show up, when some 60+ freaky, hippie looking dude with a long gray/white pony tail and spindly legs comes up to me and, in an accent I couldn't place, asks if I want to hit. Seeing no other prospects around, I reluctantly said, "uh, yeah, ok... but I'm waiting for my partner to show up" (a lie). He said that he just wanted to hit and then he'd take off when my partner arrived.

We had a pretty good hit, surprising I thought, but then he suggested we play a set or two. Again, not quite sure what to make of him, I agreed. He proceeded to torch my ass like I was bad JV high school tennis player. He beat me 6-1, 6-0 in the span of what seemed like 20 minutes. Totally humiliating. We then just played a handful of game to see if I could take another game off him. We got to about 5 and I did, then he thanked me and took off.

I then resolved to never, ever again underestimate anyone in any athletic or other contest based on their age, gender, appearance, whatever.

I found out later that he was none other than Torben Ullrich, who was top 10 player in his day, and played for the Danish Davis Cup team, and oddly, is the father of Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. I never saw him again, but I'd sure like to thank him... or at least get his autograph.
posted by psmealey at 3:04 PM on April 24, 2008 [5 favorites]

I'm going to print these out, and put them in a box in our safe that says "open and read every decade" to remind me to behave this way and not turn into a crusty old woman.
posted by dpx.mfx at 3:11 PM on April 24, 2008

My mom could beat you at tennis. Alls' y'alls.

Seriously. She doesn't miss. She's some kind of robot.
posted by starman at 5:47 PM on April 24, 2008

Hm. I still have a year of eligibility left for fencing. I'm going to try and hold out for another 35 years or so.
posted by sciurus at 6:33 PM on April 24, 2008

First, I was under the impression you had 5 years to complete 4 years of eligibility. Looks like I was wrong. Or maybe it meant 5 years of enrollment. Whatever, this is a great story.

My stepfather who is now 83 and plays tennis twice a week can still beat people half his age. I played him about 5 years ago and while I am no tennis player, he beat me soundly because I was more winded than he. He places dink shots over the net and no matter how hard I tried to drive the ball through him, he stood there like General Jackson, a stone wall simply returning what I had waiting for me to make a mistake. My youth inevitably got the better of me and I did make a mistake. Crafty pkayers with tons of experience can often beat superior athletes. I learned that the hard way. I am waiting for him to turn 90 so I can play him again.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:35 PM on April 24, 2008

I've got 3 years left to fence in college. I hope I can use them, whenever I get back to school. I loved being a student athlete.

/Just not the student part so much.
posted by now i'm piste at 7:55 PM on April 24, 2008

Related: [59-year-old Sul Ross State football player Mike] Flynt is giving new meaning to being a college senior. After all, he's a grandfather and a card-carrying member of AARP. He's eight years older than his coach and has two kids older than any of his teammates.

More coverage on
posted by donpedro at 10:59 PM on April 24, 2008

What a great story.
posted by caddis at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2008

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