Longest-running pick-up basketball game in the WORLD at Guilford College

By rights, Guilford College would be known as the Mother of College Sports in North Carolina.

The first college baseball game in North Carolina was played there. Later, Guilford baseball teams were preeminent among southern colleges and a parade of its graduates became professional stars and hall-of-famers. In the 1960s and ‘70s, it produced now-legendary basketball teams and players. To this day, Guilford basketball, golf, volleyball, softball, and other teams achieve success at the national level (NCAA, Division III), year-in and year-out. And Guilford is a leader in providing new opportunities for women, most recently having fielded a women’s rugby team. As many as 40% of Guilford students are varsity athletes, and graduates of its sports management curriculum regularly graduate to become coaches, athletics administrators, and managers of professional sports franchises.

But those are merely conventional measures of success in college athletics.

Guilford professor Richie Zweigenhaft has published a new book that points the way to the ultimate evolution of college sports: Geezerball, North Carolina Basketball at its Eldest. (Half Court Press 2020).

Guilford College, after all, is a classic, small, independent liberal arts college. It prepares its graduates not merely for jobs, or even careers, but for successful, rounded, and gratifying lives. And Professor Zweigenhaft’s memoir demonstrates as powerfully as that first baseball game did, the important place of sports (and team sports) in everyone’s lives.

The longest-running pick-up basketball game in the world is played at Guilford College. It’s been going for more than forty years. Its current players range in age from their thirties to their seventies. It has been the subject of magazine, newspaper, and journal articles – and now it has a book.

What it is, is a demonstration of where sports fits and why it’s important not to drop games when school is done. Zweigenhaft quotes George Bernard Shaw: “We do not quit playing because we grow old. We grow old because we quit playing.”

And the forty-year-old Geezerball game at Guilford College is a model for students and graduates of all stripes. It has been open to students, professors, college staff, and members of the Greensboro community, including men and women of all races, the short and the tall, the quick and the not-so-quick. Befitting its demographics, it makes a place for those who value strategy and teamwork over running and gunning. Players include not just academics, but bankers, doctors, salesmen, podiatrists. Pretty much anybody. Mostly professionals. Notably, not lawyers.

The book boasts cover blurbs from an NBA Commissioner and a prominent NBA coach, which extol Zweigenhalft’s work, although the credits on the copyright page admit that the quotations are fake. Scorners or whitlings might cavil that, since those blurbs are fake anyway, they could have been a bit more enthusiastic. What kind of modesty is this?

Ultimately though, and memoir though it may be, Geezerball is a model: lifelong athletics alongside lifelong learning. The guiding principles of the longest-running pick-up game in the world set forth by Zweigenhalft are (1) everyone plays an equal amount, (2) injuries and arguments are to be minimized, and (3) friendship first (a maxim taken from the Chinese Communist ping pong team). And the outlines of a grand vision may be discerned in those principles.

It’s not about stats. It doesn’t end when school is done. It may be the ultimate evolution of sport as part of a liberal learning community.

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  • Bob Malekoff  On March 8, 2020 at 4:36 pm

    A nice review of both this book/the tradition of the pick-up game and the many good qualities of Guilford College. But I’m afraid you get a bit carried away in your praise for the College’s sponsorship of a varsity rugby team for women. Anyone paying attention on the GC campus will tell you that the genesis of this “opportunity” was the direct result of a Title IX lawsuit filed against the College, accurately claiming that not enough intercollegiate athletic opportunities were made available to women – among other sport-related gender inequities. As you rightly note, Guilford is in many ways a wonderful school – but I’m afraid you overstepped on this point.


    • Midlaw  On March 9, 2020 at 9:09 pm

      Thanks for your comments. I believe there’s a will at Guilford to get the right balance for athletics as soon as feasible and for all the right reasons. I think that’s happening. The Interim Athletics Director is dynamite. For an old institution, change is a continuing revelation.

      At the time of that first baseball game in the 19th Century, Guilford was (still is) the first coeducational institution in the South. Mary Hobbs was fiercely committed to educating women. (The first woman to graduate from UNC came from Guilford College. At UNC there was resistance to permitting her to take a course in Shakespeare where she would be exposed to the proclivities (and follow-through) of Sir John Falstaff. She took the course.)

      Mary Hobbs famously said, “Women are of infinite importance.” Her husband Lewis Hobbs fully supported both his wife and the education of women. Then, when he brought baseball to Guilford, he said:
      “Whatever will encourage manly athletics in college should have the ‘support of all persons who are concerned to see “a sound mind in a sound body.” Especially do students need to be impressed with
      the necessity of physical training as a means of accomplishing most in’ College and most in life. All needs to be done that can be done to contribute to the joyousness of youth. Play is a necessity of our nature….”

      Change occurred then and has done so continuously ever since. It is a march. Not always a steady one.

      The history of race relations at Guilford follows a similar pattern to my eye. And there was a similar pattern related to teaching historical and literary criticism of the Bible.

      Look what was happening at about the same time in the same community. https://midlaw.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/a-fable-of-women-in-the-law/ (Fascinatingly, Albion Tourgée played in that first baseball game at Guilford.)

      Professor Zweigenhaft’s book testifies to a community with a pulse.


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