Connecticut women do well at National Senior Games

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., Sep. 24, 2013
The Connecticut Senior women's basketball team won the gold medal this year in the 60-64 age category. They are (l-r): Celeste Chartier (recent New England Basketball Hall of Fame Honoree from Putnam), Nancy Popeleski-Smith (Coventry), Gail Dimaggio (West Hartland), Deb DiGangi (Charlton, Mass.), Linda Plankey (Columbia), Nancy Smith-Tefft (Columbia) and coach John DiGangi (Charlton, Mass.). Courtesy photos. - Contributed Photo

Nancy Popleski-Smith played basketball for three years at E.O. Smith High School and for another year at Mitchell College. “And that was it, there was nothing recreationally for women after that,” said Popleski-Smith. Many years later, she got involved in playing pick-up basketball locally.

“I played with a group in Mansfield for a while,” she said. For 10 years, the Coventry native played at Horace Porter School in Columbia, with her friend, Linda Plankey. “She and I have been playing together for about 15 years,” said Popleski-Smith.

At age 50, Popleski-Smith became involved in the Connecticut Masters Leauge, playing 3-on-3, half-court ball. “It’s a shorter game time-wise, but it’s just as physical, if not more,” she said. “You’re involved in every play, because there are just three of you.”

For several years, the group practiced weekly at A.I. Prince Technical High School in Hartford. “We’re never without enough players to play,” said Popleski-Smith. “The dedication among the players is unbelievable.”

The National Senior Games are held every other year. To participate, a team must qualify at the state games, held at New Britain High School. Once Popleski-Smith’s team, the Connecticut Classics, decided that they wanted to make it to this year’s national competition, they ramped up their commitment significantly, scheduling many additional weekly practices. “Once we committed as a team, there was no turning back,” said Popleski-Smith.

The Classics qualified at the states, and traveled to Cleveland for the nationals over the summer. This year’s games drew 10,800 athletes from all over the country and beyond, to compete in a variety of sports including basketball.

“Defense was our claim to fame,” said Popleski-Smith. The Classics held a Virginia team to one basket in the second half during a semifinal game, and defeated the same team to win the gold in the 60-64, flight AA category.

Another team with several Connecticut players, the Classics II, took home the gold in the 55-59, flight AAA group. The Connecticut High Fives, also with several Connecticut residents, captured a bronze in the 70-74, flight AAA category.

Popleski-Smith said growing up among seven siblings - where she frequently took on her brothers during driveway games - helped to foster her love for the sport. “I guess you never lose your love of the game,” she said. “For most of us, when we were beginning to play basketball we didn’t know half of what we know now in terms of the basics of the game.”

Title IX and success for women’s teams such as UConn have opened doors for female players, she said. “I could play every night of the week now if I wanted to,” added Popleski-Smith. “There are so many more opportunities now for women to play basketball.”

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