2002-01-26 / Columnists

Boyle-ing Points by Kevin Boyle

Graybeards: Old Maybe, But Not Extinct

The Graybeards are having a party---and maybe you'll want to attend. Who are the Graybeards and why would you want to come? Well, they're a bunch of over-the-hill guys who still think they might make the NBA. But more on that later.

The party, to be held February 2nd at the Knights of Columbus on Beach 90th street, is actually a fundraiser at which Monsignor Geraghty of St. Francis de Sales and Bernie Heeran of the Harbor Light will be honored.

During the past few months, the Graybeards have arranged for a magician to entertain students at St. Francis, PS 114, and the Special Olympics; pooled thousands of dollars to fund several scholarships; volunteered to staff the annual Christmas basketball tourney at St. Francis; circulated resumes for people suddenly without work; donated money to the

WTC fund (through a fundraiser held at the Knight of Columbus); and arranged internships for local kids at a couple of NYC companies. Come spring, they're planning a "Habitat for Humanity" idea---at which they'll whip out the odd hammer and the old paintbrushes and spruce up the homes of some elderly folks. They hope to assist community organizations already doing beach clean-ups and the like. The Graybeards are a group of people who are naturally inclined to help people and the community---now they're better at it because they're organized.

They got organized, in large part, because of September 11th. A good number of Graybeards are firefighters---their heroic efforts helped inspire the others to form a group dedicated to community service and support. When Flight 587 crashed they were reminded that loss and suffering can occur at any time in any way. The Graybeards, still a work in progress, hope to be a community constant----ready to assist when needed.

A little nod towards Rockaway Rugby is in order. The Fishheads have been doing good stuff for years and their efforts were inspiring as well.

A little history. Seven or eight years ago, some arthritic Peter Pans started playing basketball together. They knew they couldn't keep up with the young studs any longer but they still loved to hoop it up. They figured the best way to preserve the run and their failing bodies was to limit play to guys 40 years and older. Once word got out that over-the-hill, below-the-rim basketball was being played by locals, aging jocks up and down the peninsula started going through their closets looking for those Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers buried under the powder blue leisure suit. The league proved irresistible for some when it was announced that a strict no-toupee policy was in place.

Pretty soon there were enough guys to start a league. Some guys had played ball in college; some never got off the bench in CYO. Didn't matter. There was never a talent bar for entry. The original players said they'd rather have a good guy join--- than a good player. A lot of times they got both. A collection of good guys made it easy to develop the social aspect of the Graybeards. Few would notice if you scored 40 points, many would notice if you missed the Beach Party or the end of season soiree.

The emphasis on the social side tended to mute the shouting and soften the elbows. In other words, things on the court never got "too" competitive---you were battling friends, after all.

A quarter of the players are firemen and it seems like a third are lawyers. And you've got plenty of this and that. A couple of doctors, a couple of cops. Sanitation men, plumbers, elevator repairmen, accountants.

But there's no caste system or social hierarchy. Doesn't matter how big your house is, what car you drive, or how much money you make. You want to brag about something, your team better win the Graybeard championship in July. Winners receive colorful long sleeve t-shirts with the word "champions" emblazoned down the sleeve and the right to strut a bit until the start of next season, some time in May. It's silly, they know it's silly, but it still feels good---partly because basketball is such a prominent thread in the Rockaway fabric.

Above all, it's a helluva lot of fun. Guys treasure the whole league, the camaraderie, the whole shebang. But it ain't easy. The sheer number of guys who want to play is a bit of a headache. In years past, league officials had to start saying "no." To some on the outside looking in, the league seemed like a cult or clique but it was mostly a matter of not being able to accommodate the numbers who wanted in. The joke was you had a better chance of getting Giants' season tickets than getting in the Graybeards. You had a better chance of having inside information about Enron's collapse than getting an invite to play.

Well, now there's talk of starting a "rookie" league---so dust off the birth certificate and start jogging. And stay tuned.

But that's just the basketball story. The full story is about combining community service and fun. The Graybeards have expanded to include non-basketball players. Co-ed volleyball was launched a few weeks ago and plans are in the works for golf outings, poker nights, tennis tournaments, boat rides and parties like the one to be held February 2nd. ($55 per person includes beer, wine, hot food, music by Dee Jay Mouse). Countless players have demonstrated that they can't play basketball but they insist on trying every year. You can expect to see the same earnest, but futile, efforts on the dance floor.

The Graybeards hope to accomplish a lot. With the group aiming so high it seems most appropriate that they honor Monsignor Geraghty and Bernie Heeran, two men who have given so much to Rockaway. Monsignor Geraghty has offered insight, wisdom, strength and both shoulders. Bernie Heeran has been quietly generous for many years, never expecting anything in return. The Graybeards would do well to match his generosity.

If you think you might want to attend or contribute to the Graybeards (they have established themselves as a 501(3c) non-profit organization) please get in touch with Steve Stathis, Brian King, Tommy Carroll, Jack Weber, Tom Boggiano, Kevin Boyle, Kevin Kelleher or Keith Bugsy Goldberg). Or you can email me at KFPBoyle@aol.com.

****More Boyle-ing Points:

Eddie Savold, with relatives in Rockaway, was inducted into the St. Francis College Hall of Fame for his baseball exploits. He went in the same night as Margaret Flannery, who was a basketball star at the college. Jim and Rosemary Flannery of Breezy Point are the proud parents.

***Interested in co-ed volleyball (for the middle age novice, the emphasis on fun)? If so, contact Debbie Kenel or Steve Stathis.

***Sure hope The Wave investigates the rumor that city officials want to move the firehouse on Beach 58th Street to Beach 48th Street as a step in addressing the building boom going on. If this Arverne-by-the-Sea idea ever takes hold, Rockaway will need an entirely new Fire Company. It will not need a compromise that invites disaster. Community board---have you consulted with real firefighters about this?

***During the last few years I've heard people say they watch Seinfeld, The Sopranos, The West Wing, Survivor, Law and Order, and various sports---never heard anyone mention ER---yet it's been a top-rated show forever. Maybe only Nielsen families watch it.

***Brian Winters, easily one of the all-time great basketball players to come out of Rockaway, is now head coach of the Golden State Warriors in the NBA. And that's too bad. Brian's put in his dues as an assistant but each time he's had a crack at a head job he's been stuck with NBA dregs. He first coached the Vancouver Grizzlies in the first year as an expansion team. No one wins with an expansion franchise. Now he gets the Warriors, a team essentially devoid of talent. Any coach will tell you it's about having the best players. Winters should get a chance to coach a real team. The Utah Jazz has got the Mailman. Winters might think about signing the local FedEx man---that bald wonder knows how to deliver.

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