Bob Messersmith, 86, San Juan Capistrano, California
“If you want to be old, you’re old.”
Bob Messersmith has built a senior basketball dynasty. The teams he has organized and coached have won the California Senior Games championship 18 out of 20 years. His Team USA has dominated National Senior Games in five age categories over the past two decades, most recently capturing gold in the Men’s 85+ division in 2019.
Remarkably, the 86-year-old hoopster, based in Orange County, California, has also repeated this success with teams in international FIMBA basketball championship play. Most competitors assume from Bob’s passion and success that he’s a lifetime roundballer motivated by the desire to win. In fact, Bob tells us that while he has an athletic background, he didn’t start playing basketball competitively until he was 61.
“I went to the University of Maryland expecting to pitch for their baseball team and ended up with a scholarship on the track team,” he recalls. He still treasures the gold watch he received when his team won the Penn Relays. He later kept up with masters track running, setting a 100-meter record at the age of 50. Bob also enjoyed playing softball for fun, and that led him to the half court.
“One of my buddies I played softball with got me to go shoot hoops with some guys every weekend,” he says. “We thought it would be great to have some competitions, and our local group grew from that.” As a retired Air Force Colonel with Viet Nam experience, Bob was the right guy to recruit, coach and manage regular practices. Within two years his teams were in Senior Games and beginning to travel to national and international tournaments.
The Capo Classics, as they are called, welcome all older men from the area to join them for healthy hoops at the San Juan Capistrano Community Center gym. Dozens are signed up, and at least 25 men show up to play three times per week. While the club has helped Bob to develop excellent teams, he is equally proud to provide a physical and social outlet for the many men of all abilities who participate.
“We are blessed where we are. There’s a lot of guys that tell me they wouldn’t know what to do if they didn’t have this basketball thing,” Bob shares, adding with a laugh, “There’s nothing like the camaraderie and all the ‘BS’ we throw at each other, and then we go out for a beer and talk about how good we used to be.”
Bob is also proud to see that his group has spawned the next generation of players. This year, a Capo Classics 65+ team competed in the National Senior Games coached by 66-year-old Darrell Cavenaugh. “It’s good to have the younger “kids” around, as I call them,” Bob chuckles. “They got fourth place in Albuquerque, but then Darrell took his 65 team to Finland and won the FIMBA World Championship, just like I did 20 years ago.”
As much as Bob loves to win, life challenges and battles through prostate cancer and multiple hip and knee replacements remind him that having a healthy body and an active social life are the real prizes. “You realize this isn’t the biggest thing about your life. You don’t have to prove yourself to anybody,” he says. “We want to do the best we can do. If we do that, we’re comfortable. If we win, that’s better.”
The white-haired court wizard sums up his thoughts by sharing his club’s motto: “Age is a mental condition – If you want to be old, you’re old.” Bob then adds, “And we’re all re-living being ten years old doing this!”