McCollough, Brown among many thriving in athletics through Senior Olympics of Western Pa. organization
Now that she’s 80, Carol McCollough has two goals every time she takes to the basketball court.
“The first is not to get hurt,” the Butler resident said. “The second is to not fall down and embarrass myself.”
McCollough has been competing in seniors tournaments since 1998, when she founded the Senior Olympics of Western Pennsylvania (SOWPA) organization, based out of the Butler Cubs hall.
She was always athletic as a youngster, though there weren’t many sports available to women when she was in school.
“I used to play ball in the barn with the boys,” McCollough said, laughing. “I went to Slippery Rock University and played basketball, field hockey and volleyball.
“I went out for field hockey having never played the game, not knowing anything about the game. It was an available sport, and I wanted to play.”
McCollough has always wanted to play. Years after she got married, raised a family and spent time in the workforce, that attitude never changed.
So when she heard of a group of senior citizen women getting together at Slippery Rock University, she wanted to join.
“Marilyn Hilliard, a friend of mine, told me about it,” McCollough said. “I could have joined them at age 50, but thought I had to wait to 55. I was only with them for a short time and the group disbanded.
“But I wasn’t ready to quit.”
She still isn’t.
“I had to get some of my own friends together and form a new group,” McCollough said. “That’s how our current organization was formed.”
McCollough played softball from age 35 to 65. She’s had two knee replacements, needs a new hip and a few other procedures. But she keeps on going.
“I forget about any pain I’m in once I’m out there,” she said of basketball. “I’ll be doing this until I die.”
While McCollough is the founder of SOWPA, she no longer runs the organization. That baton has been handed off to Nancy Brown, 70, of Penn Township. Brown has been in the organization for 13 years.
“When they asked who wanted to take over, everybody else in line stepped backward,” Brown joked.
She played coed volleyball for years in the North Hills area. She also played softball and basketball in her younger years.
“I was 5-foot-2 in eighth grade and played forward,” Brown said of her youth basketball days.
She’s enjoying athletics as a senior citizen as much as she ever has.
“There is so much out there now for women our age,” Brown said. “People don’t realize … Sports are such a fun way to stay active and meet new friends. I play pickleball, too, as many sports as I can.”
The Senior Olympics of Western Pennsylvania gets together each Saturday morning in the Butler Cubs hall on North McKean Street. They practice volleyball from 8 to 10:30 a.m., then basketball from 10:30 a.m. “until we tire out,” Brown said.
The organization has about 85 members. They range from nearby to hours away, so only some get to the Cubs hall each Saturday. This summer, SOWPA sent numerous teams and individuals to the National Senior Games in Pittsburgh, coming away with numerous medals and ribbons in a multitude of sports.
The older the women get, the more they combine with senior athletic organizations from other states to compete at regional and national tournaments.
“I played basketball with a group of ladies from Northern Virginia (at the Senior Games),” McCollough said. “They pulled in a couple of other women from other states to fill a team.
“As you play in these tournaments, you get to know senior competitors from all over the country. You become friends and do what you have to do to keep playing.”
Brown said her husband enjoys the fact she keeps so busy athletically.
“He loves it. I’m always free to go … Maybe he just likes the peace and quiet when I’m gone,” she said, laughing.
SOWPA puts together teams in five-year increments, which is how senior tournaments are run. They begin with age 50 to 55 and continue into the 80s.
McCollough particularly enjoyed this year’s games.
“My daughter, Lori, turned 50 and played with us for the first time,” McCollough said. “That was a thrill for both of us. Passing this down to the next generation is important. I know she’ll be playing for a long time like I have been.”
Brown emphasized that anybody can play.
“Just show up on Saturday mornings,” she said.