Young athletes get sick of hearing how short is the window for sporting excellence, and how they have to make sure they have a sensible career plan to fall back on.They may take heart then, at the 12,000 athletes over 50 years old who took part in the Senior Games this year in Minnesota. One of them was Houstonian Emma Lou ‘Scottie’ Scott. Now 81, Scottie has competed in most of the Games since 1991 when she became eligible (initially the lower age limit was 55).
It’s not about the medals
Scottie is a lifelong sports enthusiast. She started competing in volleyball at high school, won a scholarship to gain her degree in Physical Education at Sam Houston State college, and has never looked back.
She has taught girls volleyball, basketball, badminton, tennis, swimming, archery, modern dance (which used to be part of the Physical Education curriculum for girls). She was part of the iconic group who played pick-up games at the famous Fonde Rec in Houston, showing up for practise twice a week, somehow finding the energy to do so after long days teaching up to 300 students, and coaching 30 in volleyball.
Her house is a shrine to sports and her sporting heroines. There is a box of medals from the Senior Games – national and regional competitions that she keeps in the hall (the rest of some 300 awards, including several from a number of Gay Games, hang off furniture or are under the bed). She was inducted into the Texas Senior Games Hall of Fame in 2007.
The walls of the rooms are covered in signed photographs of famous players, including Kim Perrot of the Houston Comets Women’s Basketball team, and signed baseball cards from the original players in the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (the inspiration for the film A League of their Own), with whom she also met.
The biggest change that she has welcomed in the world of sport is the opening of opportunity for female athletes brought about by Title IX legislation of 1972. At first it was hard to get her school students to participate in sports like basketball, so she switched to the sports that were popular with women at the time: volleyball and swimming.
Retirement means go up a gear
Once she retired, she knew she couldn’t just sit on her porch and watch the world go by. She signed up for the Senior Games immediately, qualifying that first year in Badminton, Discus, Shot-put, and Javelin in a week of competing events around Houston. When she reached the Nationals that year, however, she realised that there was no time to compete in all the sports in which she had qualified, and chose to concentrate instead on singles and doubles badminton. It has remained her passion ever since. When asked what keeps her going, she said she loves the different parts of the game, the mental as well as physical aspects of playing. And she enjoys the company of other athletes.
“Find something you enjoy,” she counsels. Then just get out there and do it. “Above all, stay involved.”
Doctors have advised her that she’d benefit from both knee and hip replacement surgery, but she is putting it off as long as possible, knowing that it will compromise her mobility in the short term and admitting that her life is too busy right at the moment.
When not playing or competing, she works with an Angel Flight network who drive cancer patients from airports to their accommodation; has been a vocal advocate for mammograms for lesbians, supports her partner on the board of the Texas Ramblin’ Roses (a group of women RV enthusiasts), and is involved in the community group LOAF (Lesbians over age 50). And then if there is any time left over, there is her beloved dog – a Scottie, appropriately.