Most people learn about aging from the subtle ways that they change over the years. But SI special contributor John Garrity got his official notification last spring in a letter from a "fan" in Rochester, Mich. "Yes, Garrity, you are getting old," it concluded.
The letter was in response to Garrity's POINT AFTER titled "Too Much Silly Stuff" (March 14, 1988), which called for a ban on showy dunks in basketball, a sport Garrity has loved since he was a 6'6" sixth man on the Palm Beach ( Fla.) High squad in 1964. And that was one of the nicer responses. Garrity was also labeled a "curmudgeon," a "dinosaur" and, his personal favorite, a "fuddy-duddy." Garrity, 42, didn't need these people to remind him he was graying at the temples. After every game of hoops he plays at the Athletic Club of Overland Park near his home in Kansas City, Mo., he is painfully aware that his athletic career is, as he puts it, "limping to an end."
Nonetheless, it is pure coincidence that Garrity's recent projects for SI have dealt with seniors in sports. He covered the U.S. Senior Open for us in July and has written this week's story on the College of Cardinals (page 64), a look at St. Louis Cardinals coaches Hub Kittle, 72, Dick Sisler, 68, and George Kissell, 68.
While stitching together the Cardinals story, Garrity marveled at how well the three coaches related to rookies in their teens. "I thought there might be a communication gap," he says, "but those old coaches spoke with an affection for the game that held the players' attention."
The young prospects weren't the only ones who were spellbound by the College of Cardinals. "There is something special about talking with older sports figures that you just can't get from anybody else," says Garrity. "These guys still appreciate gab, and there is a depth and wisdom in their stories and an appreciation of their own mortality."
Garrity points out, however, that reporting his seniors stories hasn't always meant just shooting the breeze rocking-chair style. For one piece he visited Wyoming's Grand Teton National Park, where he interviewed a 73-year-old rock climber. During the trip Garrity found himself rappelling down 100-foot cliffs, sliding dangerously across glaciers and generally defying death.
"That was dangerous," says Garrity. "I never had to do stuff like that when I was interviewing college kids."