Play Like a Competitive Girl—at Every Age

By Leah Fisher Nyfeler – February 17, 2012

Becky Beaver, well known in Austin as a prominent and successful lawyer, is a friend and supporter of many philanthropic and cultural organizations in town, ranging from Ballet Austin to People’s Community Clinic to KUT Radio. Readers have seen her in print (Oprah and Texas Monthly, to name a few), on social pages, and quoted regarding family law. But it’s Beaver’s role as a mentor and athlete that brought Austin Fit Magazine to her office situated above Congress Avenue with a breathtaking view of the capitol and an amazing collection of modern artwork. Slim, poised, and perfectly coiffed, Beaver answered questions about her passion—an on-going, women-only, pick-up basketball game. The intensity and precision of her responses gave insight into the professional and athletic competitor within. Her warmth and humor reflected the vivacity with which Beaver embraces life, fitness, and being on the court.

Beaver grew up playing basketball in Anson, Texas; basketball was one of the popular things for girls to do in small-town Texas. Of the two girls in the family, “My sister was a natural athlete, and she did many different sports and excelled,” Beaver said. “I had to work really, really hard at one sport to get so I could barely do it.” She laughed and added, “But I love to play [basketball].”

Fitness was a way of life in the household. “It was just one of those things that was never negotiable with my sister and me. Anybody worth their salt exercised and was outside and stayed physically active, physically healthy,” she recalled. Her father, a natural athlete, played basketball at Weatherford Junior College, junior varsity baseball at the University of Texas, and did 100 push-ups every day of his life. Her mother, age 90, still goes to the gym daily.

Beaver described playing split court basketball in high school, “You had three guards and forwards on one end, and three guards and forwards on the other,” she explained. “I played center for my little high school basketball team. Loved it.” She took basketball as a physical education credit while studying at Texas Tech and, when she came to law school in Austin at the University of Texas, she played on intramural teams, even going to the National Championship. But finding a game got tougher once she left school. Some of Beaver’s basketball-playing friends were still associated with UT, so they played on the outdoor courts by the banks of Waller Creek. That came to an end when “at some point, since we were obviously older than average, someone ascertained we were no longer students, and [UT] began to be a little bit stricter about our participation,” reminisced Beaver.

About 20 years ago, Beaver’s group was playing 3-on-3 half court at the YMCA. They picked up more players and moved to an outdoor court in Travis Heights at the corner of Leland and Congress, playing early on Sunday mornings to beat the heat.

“One day a man in his car pulled up, and he was just watching us play,” Beaver said. “We thought that was pretty weird because we were certainly not of a quality that would attract a lot of spectators.” That man was Charles Jackson, the assistant principal at Fulmore Junior High School, and he asked, “Would you women like to play indoors?” A lasting partnership was born.

For more than 18 years, Beaver has opened the Fulmore gym on Wednesday and Sunday evenings for pick-up games. Women show up, brought by a friend, an acquaintance, a relative. Beaver noted there was a consistent group of eight to ten players when they started. Now, the game has grown to a list of 120-125 participants, all ages, all demographics, from all walks of life.

“[There was] a girl last night who started playing with us when she was 14,” Beaver said. “There’s another woman who played at UT who’s on my Senior Olympic team who plays regularly; she’s 62. I’ll find myself playing now with girls who are literally 40 years younger than I am.” All are united by one passion: basketball.

Like Beaver, most who show up played high school or college basketball. There’s an impressive level of skill, which Beaver attributed to passion: “You get the people who are really interested in playing basketball.” Recently, there was a player from Austin’s semi-pro team, Austin Elite, and there have been players from both the French and Mexican National teams in the past. Despite the high level of experience, there are no prerequisites; any woman is welcome to play. There are players who never played on a school team. However, Beaver will encourage new players to watch a bit—“Figure out if you really want to be in this game. Because you don’t want to play if nobody’s ever going to pass the ball to you. People who don’t know how to set plays are going to get hurt, and we don’t want [that].”

The partnership with Fulmore has been a good one. Beaver is the touchstone—she reserves the gym and is responsible for opening and closing it for games. She has a profound fondness for the school: “I’ve watched Fulmore grow and evolve through the years; [there are] really exciting things happening in the magnet program and with the student body now. It’s been a great place and very supportive of our team and our game.”

The games go on every week; the only breaks are the times Beaver can’t open the gym, which are rare. “All those boards, all the organizations I’m active with, know that if they need me for something, they can’t schedule for Wednesday night,” she explained.

There are no fees and no refs—players call their own fouls; it’s pure pick-up. “There’s a real commitment to make sure nobody gets hurt, so nobody goes out there intending to play rough,” Beaver stressed. That doesn’t mean the play isn’t fast and the competition fierce. Even she had a bit of a learning curve when it came to playing it safe.

“At some point, I figured out that it was okay if the person who was the starting center at Texas State a couple of years ago made the lay-up,” she said wryly. “I didn’t need to take that charge.” She laughed: “So there’s a revelation. As competitive as I am, it was really hard to get out of the way, but I need to live through this [game].”

It’s evident in Beaver’s voice that one of her greater pleasures is the longevity of the game and the dedication of the regulars. “I love the fact that we’ve now got kids who are literally what the parents call ‘gym rats’,’’ she said. “They’re kids who were raised at the basketball gym who are now playing with us. Two of the women I met through basketball have had children and I’m their godmother. It’s a really special group. It bonds good friendships and you get to know people you would never meet because your paths wouldn’t cross.” She described players’ children as “the future generation” and pointed out that “the three-year-olds now will be playing when I’m 70 and still driving this pick-up game."

For a few of the women, the pick-up game isn’t enough. Beaver, her sister, and several other players are on a Senior Olympic team as well. The Senior Olympics are part of the National Senior Games Association (NSGA), a nonprofit arm of the United States Olympic Committee. Beaver’s team has gone to Nationals four times over eight years. Senior Olympic basketball is played every other year, on odd numbered years. The team will be going to Nationals in Cleveland in 2013, playing in the 60-64 bracket.

“Texas has a very active women’s basketball Senior Olympics,” Beaver explained. “They fielded two teams in every age bracket but one, and they fielded one team at Nationals all the way up to the 80-plus [age bracket] in women. It’s really fun to see everybody still playing.” Because the team is based in San Antonio, it’s hard to practice—but easier than the years based out of Dallas. Then, practice was virtually impossible, so the players made do.

“We’d meet before the [pick-up] games and get people to play a round of 3-on-3 with us to get in the mindset.” And then they’d play again, at the pick-up game, for fun.

Beaver plays a lot of basketball—her aerobic workout of choice. Her full court, bi-weekly games last about two hours. Beaver also goes to the gym twice a week for weight and strength training. True to her upbringing, her own family is physically active. She has twin sons, one played on the intramural basketball team at Duke and is currently in law school at Columbia where he finds time for the occasional pick-up game. Her other son is involved in wrestling, soccer, and scuba diving. Her daughter is also active in sports and enjoys cross-country skiing. Beaver’s husband is John Duncan, retired economics professor.

“Did you read the article in the Statesman that Pam LeBlanc did about my husband?” Beaver asked. LeBlanc’s article, “Exercise helps patients cope with Alzheimer’s disease,” ran in the Austin American-Statesman on October 2, 2011. “He was the marathon runner,” she explained. “Once he got Alzheimer’s, things were going pretty poorly with him. I got him a trainer and she now runs with him on Town Lake twice a week, three to five miles, and they work out (strength and weight training) two other days a week. It’s made a dramatic difference in the progression of the disease and slowing down the cognitive deterioration. The impact on John has been dramatic.”

Beaver enjoys watching basketball. “I’ve been going to [the Lady Longhorn] games since they had a male coach and played at Gregory Gym,” she laughed and added, “I’ve been a season ticket holder since the Erwin Center opened, and I’m very supportive of the Lady Longhorns.” Her analysis and verve show the same intensity she brings to the game as a player.

“I’m delighted to see Cokie Reed getting back on her game after her foot surgery. She’s fun to watch. She’s got great agility as a post player. I love to watch Ashley Gayle jump and block shots. I’m glad—having been a center, it makes me really happy when we’ve got good post play.”

She commented that “[Players are] a lot stronger and a lot taller.” She went on to say that, while she’d been a center in high school, she would now be a short point guard. “Centers now are 6'3", 6'4", 6'5". Stacy Stevens has shown up to play [at the pick-up game] a couple of times. She was the center at UT the last time they went to the Final Four and she can hold the ball in her hand. You’ve got Brittney Griner (who’s 6'8") at Baylor who can dunk.”

Beaver’s enthusiasm and passion built as she returned to the discussion of the pick-up game. She repeatedly emphasized that the game was open to all, no matter when players last touched a basketball. “It’s like riding a bicycle,” Beaver said. “Once you’ve learned what to do, it comes back. A lot of people do come back and play. There are people on my Senior Olympic team who didn’t play for 20 years who are back playing at a really high caliber.”

On a gray Sunday afternoon Beaver was at the Fulmore gym. She pulled out a broom, brushing down the floor while another player warmed up, making shots. Players trickled in until the final few minutes when a stream of women came through the doors. On the hour, the group stood in a circle assessing positions and assigning teams. Beaver opted to sit out to make three balanced teams of five. The first game started—it was quiet and the play was fast and intense. Beaver pointed out players and gave brief bios. “Dee played for Iowa. Marisa had a baby about a year ago. Did you get Colleen? She’s a swimmer, too. We’ve got a couple of coaches out here; Kerrie’s at Reagan.” Players on the sideline called out comments and talked quietly to one another about recent holidays, getting back in shape, and (mostly) about basketball. Another player showed up. “Well, hello,” said Beaver. A new rotation was quickly devised. Beaver got into play, scoring some points and holding her own defensively despite a nagging shoulder issue. Time passed, games went quickly or took awhile, players tired, some left, family in tow. The rotation changed again. Kids wandered by. “Off the court! Off the court!” warned one little girl to her younger brother. As the play slowed, the mood lightened and there was more teasing. By 5:30 p.m., a game had ended. Beaver, on the sideline, gestured, “Who’s up for another game? Dina and I need to get in.” And so they headed out onto the court for one more Sunday game.


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