Richard Hyatt: 74-year-old still active on court

July 30, 2013 

While his teammates were in Ohio working their way through the brackets at the National Senior Games, Gordon Darrah was looking for a quiet game at the downtown YMCA.

Nothing unusual about that, for basketball has been part of Darrah's life since he discovered the game on an asphalt court in Baker Village more than 65 years ago.

Monday night was different though because 5½ months before lacing up his shoes and walking onto the court he was in an operating room at St. Francis Hospital for 10 hours while a surgeon furiously repaired four arteries in his heart.

Other than his heart, Dr. Kerry Paape was impressed with the shape the rest of Darrah's body was in. "She told me she had never had a 74-year-old patient who played full-court basketball," he said Tuesday.

Fifty-six years ago Darrah played his last game at Baker High and 52 years ago he was captain of the 1961 Georgia Bulldog quintet. Most guys his age fall asleep watching games on TV, but he competes in local church leagues or with the Atlanta Classics -- a team of AARP members who refuse to give up a game they love.

Paul Vickers, a former Georgia Tech football player who was an all-star basketball player on North Fulton's state championship team way back in 1953, leads the Classics. The roster includes Roy Roberts, who played for the legendary Adolph Rupp at Kentucky; Allan Johnson, an All-SEC performer for the Bulldogs; and Roger Kaiser, Georgia Tech's first All-American.

The Classics are in the semi-finals of the 75 and older division in Cleveland and even defeated a team that featured Pat Boone -- the crooner with the white buck shoes.

They're successful despite losing Darrah and Kaiser, the team's leading scorer who injured his knee Monday -- the same day his teammate made his tentative return to the court.

"I intended to play one half-court game but ended up playing four," Darrah said. "I don't like the way I played but I am thankful I could."

Around town, Darrah competes against guys less than half his age. The encouragement of those younger players inspired him. "They came to see me and said, 'Mr. Darrah, when are you going to get back out there?' If it wasn't for them, I might have waited."

Kaiser still plays after colon cancer, back surgery and a hip replacement. Next year, Darrah will join him in the older bracket. Though playing regularly helped him rehabilitate after his heart surgery, he's honest when asked why old ball players suit up decades after they went to war in the Southeastern Conference.

"It's more than the health," he admitted. "It's the competition. I've played all my life and I don't ever intend to quit."

­­--Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him on Twitter at @hyattrichard.

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