DUNEDIN – Chuck Fortin has nothing against golf and shuffleboard, but the 75-year-old Dunedin resident wanted something that was more befitting a guy who “still has his legs,” as Fortin puts it.
“I’m pretty agile and I figured there would be some others like me who wanted something more as an activity,” he said. “I was hoping we could find a niche with basketball.”
Fortin, who has lived in Dunedin before and says that upon re-arrival from Baltimore in August that he’s here to stay, literally made a formal proposal to Dunedin’s Parks and Recreation Department as few months back to initiate a 60-years-old-and-above drop-in hoops opportunity for both guys and gals.
That could mean a half-court game, or just a shoot-around, or something else, Fortin proposed.
And the city agreed to give it a try, opening its court at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation Center on Laura Lane on Nov. 1 for basketball old-timers to have their own turf from noon to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at a cost of $3. “We need to cater to everybody,” said Mark Bennett, a recreation leader at the center who supported the idea and helped it become a reality. “And we are all for giving seniors opportunities of all kinds.”
On the first day, four people showed up and just shot baskets and got to know one another. So, the four founders of the program are, for the record, Fortin, Doug Oppenheimer, Delfin Diaz and Harold Jacobs.
“Oppenheimer is my neighbor,” said Fortin, who is more than willing to play a role as recruiter in trying to build the program. He plans to attend as many sessions as possible.
“I guess I’ll be the official unofficial greeter,” for those who show up, Fortin said. “Eventually, we hope the word gets out and we can create teams. The rec center even has colored jerseys for us.”
Fortin said he researched open-gym basketball when he arrived, finding it at available Clearwater’s Countryside facility, but said he wasn’t comfortable competing with players as young as teenagers.
“I did find plenty of things to do for seniors, but just not something exclusive with basketball. I was part of something great in Baltimore, and I hope we can create the same thing here,” Fortin said.
He played with seniors there three times a week, and friendships were created.
“It extended way beyond the basketball,” Fortin said. “A bunch of us went out for weekly pizza, and there were weddings and funerals in which we attended with one another.
“When I put together my proposal (to Dunedin), I included the importance of the social aspect – a chance for older residents to meet others.”
On the Thursday of the second week, only Fortin and one other shooter were in the gym, working on their jump shots and free throws.
Bennett was not discouraged.
“This is the kind of thing we need to be patient with,” he said. “I think it will catch on in time.