At every varsity girls basketball home game, the stands are stuffed with spirited seniors — senior citizens, that is.
The ‘Senior Pep Club’ is one of the team’s strongest followers, according to former Mason player and girls JV basketball coach Jere Clark.
“The club started back in the day when I played here,” Clark said. “It’s a bunch of senior citizens from the community…[who] decided to start a club to support the girls basketball program.”
The members of the club receive free admission to home games and participate in pizza parties with the team. This link between generations began in 1997 under the leadership of Clark’s former coach, Gerald Lackey.
“I just saw [the seniors] at a lot of the games and thought that we could try to make it a more formal arrangement and work something out to increase a little more excitement in the program,” Lackey said.
According to Lackey, Senior Pep Club President Fred Stemmler was an integral part of encouraging membership.
“[Some seniors] just sit in the house all winter waiting for spring,” Stemmler said. “Now they come out here and have fun.”
At 91 years old, WWII veteran Bob Sealles became the oldest member of the club when he joined this season.
“It establishes a great relationship between seniors and the students,” Sealles said.
Because of her own high school experience, Clark said she knows the benefits of that relationship firsthand.
“It was kind of a family sense,” Clark said. “I didn’t have grandparents towards the end of my high school career so they kind of filled that role for me. But it was definitely a feeling of belonging — that you wanna perform well [and] win well not only for your parents, but now for these senior citizens who became part of your everyday basketball career.”
According to Stemmler, the girls hold a special place in the seniors’ hearts as well, even traveling with team to tournaments in Columbus and Chicago.
“[At the 2000 state final in Columbus], the girls had reserved the first [four] rows behind their bench…for [us] to sit right behind them,” Stemmler said. “To me that was a big deal, we sat right there with the girls when they won the state title.”
According to senior guard Hayley Vorherr, the outreach also includes recruiting members during the summer at local nursing homes.
And now, she said the Senior Pep Club section regularly outnumbers the Black Hole.
“You see familiar faces in the crowd [with] the seniors there,” Vorherr said. “They know you by name and they cheer for you and even if you mess up, they still love you, so it’s just really great to have them…It’s just nice that you can see a full set of stands.”
According to Lackey, the Senior Pep Club allows the girls to gain valuable insights to life by creating lasting relationships — on and off the court.
“It makes them realize there’s more to life than just the game of basketball,” Lackey said. “They [see and] interact with some of the people from that generation, that have been through so much, and [that makes] them realize that they had a lot to be thankful for.”