By Mollie Rotmensch
Medill Reports

Kathleen Eaton may live in Sleepy Hollow, Illinois, but she’s full of energy and depth. The professional artist sometimes paints with a twisted knee ligament and stuck fingers. It is not prone to accidents. She’s just a ballerina. This class act dons his knee pad and Under Armor low-tops for 3-on-3 half-court basketball every Tuesday.

Big deal? Yes. Eaton is 80 years old. Again, ball.

Kathleen Eaton (left) waves her arms to block the ball during a May 3 scrum. (Mollie Rotmensch/MEDILL)

She plays in the Chicago North Stars, a women’s team made up of various senior age groups, and they hold pickup games at the Levy Senior Center in Evanston. Eaton’s endorphins are probably skyrocketing while practicing pick-and-roll, but nothing screams adrenaline quite like the chance to compete in the Senior National Games.

The largest multi-sport event for 50+ takes place every two years. Since COVID-19 put the kibosh on the 2021 games, they’ve been postponed to May 2022, making that year the first even number they’ve had. Was this a telltale sign of luck for Eaton? Reasons for superstition? Who could say? Basketballs are not magic balls. Either way, the tournament was back, and so was Eaton, who had qualified in-state with her teammates for the competition in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Eaton came back from games without a win, but it’s neither here nor there. COVID-19 still exists, although its impact on daily life is less than it was in 2020, and Eaton’s age puts her in a category of adults at higher risk of serious illness from to the virus, according to Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention. But over the past year, people have gradually returned to a sense of normalcy in which the seemingly endless cycle of variations and subvariations does not interfere with daily activity. Eaton and some of his teammates decided they were ready to travel and compete, chasing COVID-19 out of love for basketball and camaraderie.

Eaton is quick on the court, but at 5-foot-5, she says she’s not as quick as taller players. Modesty is reflexive for Kathy Scissorhands, the nickname Rochelle Corso, 60, gave to her 15-year-old friend and teammate. “She’s a wild woman,” Corso said. “His hands are everywhere. She clings to this balloon. She hits you (but) not on purpose. And she never thinks, ‘Oh, those fingers, I have to preserve them.’ She is thoroughly.

True, Eaton isn’t worried about basketball affecting his ability to create art. “Stuck fingers – they still work,” she said. “They just hurt.”

The Chicago native actually made a career out of playing baseball, her “main sport” as a kid. “It never occurred to me that there were no female baseball players,” Eaton said. Childhood innocence seemed to shield Eaton from antiquated societal attitudes toward women in sports until she joined the Girls’ Athletic Association in high school in the late 1950s. IX, that groundbreaking law passed in 1972, the now-defunct national organization offered high school girls the opportunity to play collegiate sports, but not competitively. The restriction did not stop Eaton from playing basketball, baseball, field hockey and soccer, although she noticed a lack of women in professional basketball as she began to excel in this sport.

eaton plays
Kathleen Eaton has been playing basketball for decades. (Mollie Rotmensch/MEDILL)

Looking back, she sees how “primitive” her high school basketball days were. “You could only dribble three times,” she said. “I guess they thought the girls were just too exhausted (to) run the whole field. It was so silly. Eaton did not recall any umpires or umpires from the association. The girls themselves monitored their behavior in court and even kept their own score. Eaton, who was playing defense, didn’t necessarily count, however. “We were playing for the love of the game,” she said.

Basketball wasn’t Eaton’s only outlet growing up. Sport ran parallel to art for much of his life. The brushstrokes, however, came first. “I probably painted on the walls (like) a toddler,” she said. Eaton’s parents enrolled her in art classes at the suggestion of an elementary school teacher, and she continued her formal training in high school and college. After graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Eaton turned his art degree into a career painting night scenes of architectural spaces in Chicago and surrounding suburbs. Much of his work captures the city’s iconic bungalows and two-story apartments.

Art and sport are sympathetic to Eaton. While developing her artistic style, she studied many illustrators who also had a talent for sports, such as Frank Frazetta, who turned down an offer to play professional baseball with the New York Giants in 1948, before the team moved out and became the San Francisco Giants in 1957. Eaton said painting and basketball share a physical bond: hand-eye coordination. But basketball began to fade as his artistic career progressed.

His return to basketball in 2007 was fortuitous. She came across a Daily Herald article announcing tryouts for a new senior women’s league, Granny Ball, at the Homan Square Community Center. “If you breathed, they would be happy to have you,” she said. In Granny Ball, women weren’t allowed to run all over the court, a rule Eaton found odd but not enough to give up. “The company with other women who were interested in basketball and meeting people from all over town was great,” Eaton said. She met Corso there, and the two pivoted to a 3-on-3 half court at the Levy Senior Center after Granny Ball folded.

Eaton’s pick-up scrimmages have led her to qualify and compete in the Senior National Games since 2011. She would have liked to win this year, but after the COVID-19-induced hiatus, she cared more about just enjoying herself. new games. That’s his attitude over the years, anyway. “It’s really nice to be around women even though you’re competing with them,” she said. “It’s a very supportive community.”

Mollie Rotmensch is a graduate magazine student at Medill. You can reach her at LinkedIn.

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