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They’ve Got Next: Moms-n-Daughters Hoop Evolves Into Weekly Pick-up Games

  • Jennifer Roby of Norwich, left, and Julie Dunfey of Hanover, right, block April Crowell of Enfield as she makes a shot during "Low-Key Basketball" at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., on November 19, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Jennifer Roby of Norwich, left, and Julie Dunfey of Hanover, right, block April Crowell of Enfield as she makes a shot during "Low-Key Basketball" at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., on November 19, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Wendy Rudd of Hanover chases after an errant ball during the "low key" women's pickup basketball at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., on November 19, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Wendy Rudd of Hanover chases after an errant ball during the "low key" women's pickup basketball at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., on November 19, 2013.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jennifer Roby of Norwich reaches to catch a pass during a "low-key" women's pickup basketball at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., on November 19, 2013. It was Roby's second time playing with the group, which has been meeting for a few years now. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Jennifer Roby of Norwich reaches to catch a pass during a "low-key" women's pickup basketball at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., on November 19, 2013. It was Roby's second time playing with the group, which has been meeting for a few years now.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Jennifer Roby of Norwich, left, and Julie Dunfey of Hanover, right, block April Crowell of Enfield as she makes a shot during "Low-Key Basketball" at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., on November 19, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Wendy Rudd of Hanover chases after an errant ball during the "low key" women's pickup basketball at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., on November 19, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Jennifer Roby of Norwich reaches to catch a pass during a "low-key" women's pickup basketball at Tracy Hall in Norwich, Vt., on November 19, 2013. It was Roby's second time playing with the group, which has been meeting for a few years now. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Norwich — They don’t keep score, but these ladies get high marks when it comes to exercise and fun.

Each Tuesday night at Tracy Hall, a dozen-or-so women from Norwich and elsewhere gather for 90 minutes of casual pickup basketball. The activity is free of charge and is in its third year, running more or less concurrently with area youth and high school basketball seasons.

Originally founded by Norwich third- and fourth-grade girls hoops coach Beth Ryan as a way for the moms of players to learn about the game their daughters are involved in, the program has evolved to attract a wide-ranging field.

The group Tuesday night features 14 women aged 33-55, with experience ranging from former college and women’s league players to those trying the game for the first time.

There aren’t any shot clock violations, personal fouls or even scorekeeping, but the women work up a sweat and have plenty of fun in the process.

“It started a couple (of) years ago during Christmas break, when (Ryan) held a practice with both the girls and mothers,” said Karen Loring, a program regular. “It ended up being a game of ‘mothers versus daughters.’ The girls were pretty mystified about it, but we loved it. So we went to the (Norwich Recreation Department) and for seven weeks we had practices where it was a half-hour of skills learning and a half-hour of playing. It was basically ‘basketball for moms,’ but last year we started allowing any (women) to come, and it’s worked out great.”

Hanover High social studies teacher Julie Stevenson said the low-key pickup games are just as valuable for socializing and getting to know people in the area as it is for the exercise.

“It’s a good workout, but there’s a lot of laughing, too,” said Stevenson, who doubles as Hanover High’s crew coach and helps coach her daughter, Eliza, on Norwich’s third-fourth team. “You meet a lot of people you didn’t know lived here. I see women here now who I haven’t met before.

“Plus, it’s good for moms to learn the game. When you play the game, you better understand the work the kids are doing while they’re out there.”

One of Stevenson’s students is Hanover junior J.J. Daniell, a sharpshooting junior for the Marauders’ girls varsity team.

Daniell convinced her mom, Julie Dunfey, to go out and play with the group Tuesday night. A former player at Phillips Exeter Academy, Dunfey was pleased not only to find that she still enjoys the game, but also that her former Lion Rampant teammate, Karin Rothwell, was also on hand.

“We were co-captains on that team, and we just happened to both end up in the Upper Valley,” said Rothwell, whose daughter, Chiara, is now a teammate of Daniell’s at Hanover. “It’s nice to be playing with her again.”

A hoops platform has been helpful for the youth coaches involved, too. Norwich girls third-fourth coach Christine Cimini, one of several coaches who participate, said it helps them stay in tune with the game they’re charged with teaching.

“It’s an opportunity for us to stay active and stay involved with the game, which in turn makes us better (as coaches),” Cimini said. “We learn how to work as a group here and then it helps us teach the girls how to work as a group, so it really goes back to them.”

Cimini and Karen Dwyer played in both high school and college, allowing them to offer pointers and tips about the game to their lesser-experienced counterparts. That includes former Dartmouth College track and field thrower Suzy Psomas, who is attending the pickup games as an alternative to adult track options in the Upper Valley.

Psomas’ former throwing coach, Carl Wallin, runs the Lebanon-based Thor’s Stone Athletic Club, which practices and competes in track and field events as well as weightlifting competitions. Naturally, Wallin has attempted to recruit Psomas to join, but the former Big Green shot put and discus specialist wanted to try something new.

“I’ve been loving it so far,” the 1988 Dartmouth graduate said. “I just started as an assistant coach for the seventh- (and) eighth-grade team in Hanover, so I really wanted to get more familiar with the game.”

Some just want an outlet to stay competitive. Former Hartford High center April Crowell, of Enfield, is a single mother who said she doesn’t have time to join an area women’s league. One thing she doesn’t lack is ability — the 34-year-old may have been the best player on the floor Tuesday.

“I’ve done some other stuff at the area, but this is a good fit,” said Crowell. “My daughter plays for the fifth- and sixth-grade team (at Indian River School), so I keep pretty busy with that.”

Tuesday’s group even contained an international presence. The youngest on the court was 33-year-old Justyna Czech, of Poland, who’s temporarily staying with her husband in Wilder.

“I never played before, but this is really fun,” Czech said. “It gives me something to do while I’m here.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.