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The Old College Try

Ken Mink, 83, Maryville, Tennessee

An often-heard joke among senior athletes after a good performance is, “Too bad you don’t have any college eligibility left.” Of course, no one takes it seriously, right?

Basketballer Ken Mink did, setting a most unique sports record in the process. Ten years ago, at the age of 73, the longtime Senior Games participant stepped on the court with his Roane State Raiders team and became the world's oldest college basketball player in history. The record still stands.

A misunderstanding made this unlikely feat possible. In 1956, while playing on his college team at Lees Junior College in Jackson, Kentucky, Ken was unjustly accused of being the perpetrator of a prank on his coach and he was expelled from school. 50 years later and living in Knoxville, he got the urge to try to return to college basketball as a septuagenarian to finish his last year of eligibility.

Incredibly, he enrolled at Roane State College in nearby Harriman and made the team, playing in seven games and scoring free throws and baskets in three, which set several world records. Ken attracted international publicity, such as this ESPN Outside The Lines feature that recounts the history and validates his innocence.  

The news stories and TV talk show appearances were not the only highlights of this experience, as Ken came to appreciate being a senior role model. “As I was traveling with my Roane State team hundreds of elderly basketball fans told me they had been inspired by my performance at my age and said they were going to become more active in their own lives.”

In recent years, Ken started a nonprofit called Get Up and Go and obtained funding to perform halftime skills exhibitions at college and high school basketball games, including the University of Tennessee, Tennessee Tech and King University. “I demonstrate dribbling, shooting, and passing, doing things that are out of the norm for people my age,” Ken says. “It’s gone well. I’ve gotten standing ovations at every one of them.”

Ken keeps active practicing and competing with a senior basketball team in Knoxville and golfs on a regular basis and has won more than a dozen gold medals in Senior Games basketball, golf and track. His name might also be recognized for a professional career spanning 50 years as a journalist and author of 23 books, including The Ken Mink Story which recounts his experiences. Ken has retired from full-time newspaper work but is still a prolific writer focusing on travel and golf subjects, including editing The Traveling Adventurer magazine and being part of the Golf Travel Writers of America providing regional, national and international features.

You might think that’s the end of this story, but there’s more. Ken has signed with a Hollywood producer and given his blessing for a movie based on his life. “They sent me a nice check for using my story, the script is written, and they have hired a director,” the Hazard (Vicco), Kentucky native says. “The working title is Bucket and they say it should be completed within a year.”

We’ve glad that Ken has included Senior Games in his still-busy schedule. “It’s a great way for older Americans to compete in many sports,” he observes. “I just want to show people they don’t have to be anchored to a couch nor do they need to have my capabilities. Seniors can start slowly and set goals to build up to a great exercise regimen. After all, when you reach my age, every year you are on earth is an accomplishment in itself!”

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