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Age does not have to be a factor when it comes to having success in basketball.
At least it is not a factor for Dave Erickson, a 71-year-old who lives in Cambridge.
Erickson and his teammates, who live as far away as Pennsylvania and Utah, recently placed first in the age 70-74 division of the 3-on-3 basketball tournament in the Huntsman World Senior Games in St. George, Utah, in October.
Erickson sponsors the Minnesota Shooters, who returned with the gold medal from the Huntsman Games, an Olympic-style event that attracts as many as 12,000 senior men and women from around the world to compete in many events against athletes of similar ages.
Besides Erickson, the Minnesota Shooters include Jon Nicholson, of St. Paul; Tom Eichenberger, formerly of Minnetonka; Tom Cunningham, of Philadelphia; and Larry Tracy, of St. George. They range in size from the 5-foot-8 Nicholson to the 6-1 Cunningham and Eichenberger.
But it’s not as if the Minnesota Shooters practice together daily, weekly or even monthly.
“These games are the first time we played together,” Erickson said. “And the competition is tough.”
He pointed out that one team had eight players ranging in size from 6-4 to 6-7. But, he said, there’s a way to beat such a “giant” team.
“We are a short team, but if you move fast enough, they can’t keep up with you,” said Erickson, a 5-10 guard who played basketball and football for three years before graduating from Braham High School in 1968.
Erickson, the owner of Dave Erickson Designers in Cambridge, first attended the Huntsman Games in 2017 at age 66. And he’s figuring on returning to defend the title in 2022, although the team is qualified for the U.S. National Tournament next May in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
“The three Minnesotans already are committed to both and we’re working on the other two,” said Erickson, whose wife, Barbara, joined the other players’ wives at this year’s event.
“They were a valuable asset,” Erickson said. “They were waving Shooter hankies. We’re grateful because they tolerate us going to play at such long distances.”
He originally played two years in Utah on a team from New Mexico.
“I met a lot of really nice guys,” Erickson said. “All of them want to rip your heart out during the game but would give you the shirt off their back any other time.
“It’s amazing to me how that competitive spirit lives on in many of us. Basketball is a kids game, yet the senior games in general have brackets of players in their 80s.”
The Minnesota Shooters did not go undefeated this year; in fact, the team lost twice. But the Shooters bounced back and won twice to notch the gold medal in their division of the age 70-74 bracket. They won 49-48 in their first set of the games that featured two 15-minutes of running time. Then came losses by scores of 56-35 and 63-49.
Placed in a different bracket, the Shooters prevailed by scores of 50-29 and 44-37 to take home the gold. The scoring, Erickson said, “was pretty balanced.”
But Erickson wants it known that winning isn’t the most important thing in the Senior Games.
“I have told my teammates that at the end of the day it doesn’t matter whether we win or lose,” he said. “Medal or no medal, we have already won big-time just by being able to play the kids game of basketball at our age.”
So how does he keep doing it at his age?
“I always am in awe of all the people with a whole lot more talent than me,” Erickson said. “My only talent is I can still run up and down the basketball court or a softball field. And I do feel very blessed that I can do that.
“Your health is everything.”
He wants people to understand that there are sports activities for all ages.
“It is never too late to stay active in a sport or anything that gets you up and moving,” Erickson said. “Life is short. Enjoy it. You are never too old or too sore to do something you love doing.”
He encourages everyone over age 50 to visit the Minnesota Senior Games website to find something of interest.
“You will compete against people your own age, so you are never embarrassed about your abilities,” Erickson said. “Everyone is so helpful and happy to be able to still do these things.”
Just like Dave Erickson, a gold medalist.