Jody Smith, 61, Atlanta, Georgia
Jody Smith should have been named Jody Sports. It’s been her passion for as long as she can remember, and basketball was her favorite pastime. She was a standout player in high school and college and has been inducted into her college hall of fame.
Jody and her husband Mark modeled active lifestyles to their three children, and all found paths to play sports and enjoy fitness. They both helped coach teams and encouraged their kids to find their own path as they grew. The youngest daughter, Kylee, had a standout career in high school and then at Vanderbilt and later Belmont College, and she went on to a semi-pro career playing overseas before returning home to start her own social media business.
During Kylee’s sojourns Jody discovered back home in Atlanta she could play competitive basketball in Senior Games. In the edited conversation that follows, we discovered that Jody has a Pittsburgh connection because she grew up in nearby Butler and had her college career at Grove City College. A younger college alum emailed Jody and persisted to get her to join the Butler 55+ team to compete at the 2022 National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale. She did and helped the team earn a Bronze medal for their efforts.
Jody was blown away and inspired by the environment at The Games and seeing older women mixing it up on the floor. She was overjoyed knowing she now had a future enjoying this. But she was most grateful that her children came to see her play and wished her own mother was alive to see it. For Kylee, she had heard stories of her Jody’s dominance in her youth, but it was the first time she watched her actually play in a game. Kylee, who credits her intense competitive streak to her mom, could not keep herself from being a coach yelling out advice and encouragement, just as her mother had done when Kylee was on the court. The roles had reversed, and appreciation for the sport experience deepened for both women.
As our talk with Jody (and Kylee chiming in) you will see how Senior Games athletes have a powerful impact on those around them and particularly down the generations. She presents tangible proof that you can enjoy doing active things and have optimum health and well-being well beyond the stereotypes of aging that persist in society. Jody Smith now knows this to be true, and her children do too. How about you?
Welcome to Senior Games Jody! You live in Atlanta but play with a Pittsburgh area team. What’s the connection?
I am from Butler, Pennsylvania and left many years ago. I now live in Georgia. I played basketball at Butler High School and at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.
I got an accounting degree and worked in Butler for a little bit. Then my husband Mark went back to school to get his masters and we moved to Ohio for a bit and I worked a few places there. I was blessed to be able to stop working to raise the kids. We went from Butler to Ohio to Minnesota and then we moved to Georgia, and we’ve been there ever since.
So you’ve always been athletic?
Yes. For as long as I can remember I have loved sports. I was always playing sports like pick up baseball with the guys over at the elementary. My brother is five years older and I was always wanting to play with him and his friends. Of course, he didn’t want to play with his little sister, so I would go to my mom crying and say, ‘Chuck won’t let me play!’ and she would go outside and tell him to let me play.
When I graduated from college, my brother had become a policeman in Butler, and Mark and I joined the police basketball league. I was the only girl on the team!
How did you find out about National Senior Games?
I got an e-mail from Heather Starcher, who also played basketball and knew of me from Butler and Grove City. But she is five years younger so our paths never crossed in high school or college. She introduced herself to me at an alumni game at Grove City.
She told me about the National Senior Games in her email and asked me to play with her team. I had never heard of it before and I was just shocked that I had not. At first, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh that sounds like so much fun’. Then I looked into it and thought, ‘Oh, that’s going to take a lot of work!’ [Laugh]
It took me a couple weeks to get back to her and I asked how long can I have to think about it. Heather’s response was, ‘As long as it takes you to say yes.’ [Laugh] So I kept going back and forth about it. I was in shape and active, but I was worried because I hadn’t touched a basketball in forever. With me, If I can’t do it well, then I’m not going to do it.
I started shooting and practicing and after a couple weeks my husband started pushing me to do it because I was having so much fun. He said he would come to watch me play. Between them pushing and my starting to dribble and shoot again, I told her yes. Fort Lauderdale was my first National Senior Games. Our Butler 55+ team came in 3rd place so we got a bronze medal.
What was the biggest enjoyment of playing in a national tournament?
It was really having my kids being able to see me play basketball, which they had never gotten to see before. They’ve watched me play tennis but not my best sport. It was special to have them there, and my brother came along too.
The only thing I wish is that my mom had been there. She passed away a few years ago. My dad died after my college years, and they never missed anything. With my mother recently passing, I wish she had been alive to see this because she would have been in her glory watching me play again.
Your daughter Kylee was there. She took your path into college basketball, right?
Kylee played basketball at Vanderbilt and then decided to transfer to Belmont. The coach at Belmont recruited her in the University of Georgia and it was the best four years ever. My mom loved following Kylee through her Belmont days too. After that Kylee went pro and played in Germany, Ireland, and for several seasons in Australia.
Did any of your other kids follow your example in sports?
Well, my oldest daughter Kara went back and forth on playing basketball in college and ended up deciding she wanted to try to play. She did play at McDaniel College, a small school in Maryland. She played one year and decided the school was too small and wanted to go to a city school. She ended up transferring to Georgia State University and played intermural.
My son’s name is Erik and he was an awesome athlete. He played basketball, lacrosse and swam. Anything he wanted to do he could pick up. But he took to music. He is an engineer, and his weekend job is with an 80’s tribute band in the Baltimore area. He is the lead guitarist in the band and they are very popular up there.
Kylee is with us, let’s ask her about this. What was it like to see your mom play senior basketball?
KYLEE: I had just moved home in March because I was still playing professional ball in Australia up until then. When I got home, I had the opportunity to go to one of her games and thought it was awesome that my mom is doing this. It really made me sit back and realize how lucky I am.
You hear stories of my mom being a legend. She was inducted into her college Hall of Fame and like five other hall of fames. So I know how amazing she is but I never got to see it. I haven’t even seen old game footage because I don’t think they had the technology back then. So then seeing her play now, I was like ‘Oh my gosh this is so surreal.’ She was at her peak when she was 20, and she’s dominating at her age now and she’s so good.
JODY: After every game, we had a girl on our team who always wanted a picture with the other team. So we would line up every other person, their team and us, and we would take a goofy picture. Kylee would always take those pictures since she works in social media.
So Kylee, were you tempted to coach her from the sidelines?
KYLEE: I’m super competitive and I know I got that from my mom. So I was getting protective and feisty at her game because these girls were like beating up on her. [Laugh] Also, when I am playing I hear my mom’s voice in my ear telling me to shoot when I’m open. She wasn’t shooting when she was open so I was yelling ‘Shoot!’ It was definitely roles reversed.
I have always been fiery and competitive, so sitting there and trying to be like ‘Yay! Go mom!’ was impossible because I wanted to coach, help and tell her everything she told me when I was growing up.
JODY: I couldn’t believe how physical the National Senior Games were. It really shocked me. I was knocked to the ground multiple times. I was thinking, ‘I’m 60 and I am picking myself off the floor.’
Did you have time for sports while you were raising the kids, Jody?
I did play basketball and softball when we were in Ohio, and I helped coach the Cuyahoga Falls High School team. I went to some open gyms and got to know people there and coach. We moved to Minnesota with a baby and then I eventually had two more kids there but played basketball in a guys league neighborhood team that we got together. I played for years on that team, and I played softball in a women’s league too.
I had a lot of good neighbors that didn’t have family around and we all helped each other out. When we moved to Georgia, I got involved in a Mormon church league. Yeah, they’re big in basketball so they asked me to play and I did. There were always two to three great players on each team and I was always guarding somebody good. It was a lot of fun until the good people decided to go into a league in Atlanta. We tried it for one season but we were a little over our head. There were a lot of ex-WNBA players and we weren’t as talented so we gave it up.
So you did stop playing for a time before you found the Senior Games.
Yeah, there was a big lapse in playing, more than 15 years. There really wasn’t much after we realized that the Atlanta league isn’t for us and I don’t know what happened with the Mormon church league.
But I stayed busy with three kids involved in all kinds of stuff. Kylee, who’s the youngest, played travel soccer, swimming and basketball all at the same time. I know that put a kibosh on my playing but I stayed active during those years. I got very involved in tennis and my basketball experience helped me with that. I coached my daughters, and my husband coached our son until they got to high school.
Kylee, how much of an influence did your mom have on you and your siblings?
KYLEE: Like mom said, I was a swimmer and played soccer and basketball, and in middle school I was playing all of them. Seeing my mom and dad being active and watching them do what they did even as adults, I always knew that I can stay active just like them.
Even to this day, being 28, I know I don’t have to stop being active and I don’t have to stop playing sports. You don’t even realize it as a kid, but you look up to your mom and I still do. All of that plays an integral part in what I wanted to do. Staying fit and healthy was what we were taught. It was also great that they could care less like if we were good, they just wanted us to do what we loved and be healthy. I didn’t know any different because they led the way. I always thought ‘Well, they are active so I am going to be active.’
You and Mark did a great job of parenting, Jody.
Our goal was just to expose our kids to as much as possible and let them figure out what they wanted. My husband played basketball and we were all into basketball and watched it all the time. Kylee had the advantage of having two older siblings and she’d sit there with us as we analyzed all the games that were going on. She is the youngest and I think sometimes she could soak up more that way because she got to watch her older siblings. She was blessed to get on an AAU team at a very young age. There were great coaches and players.
Does Mark think he will get into The Games?
Mark is still working and he goes to the gym to shoot and lift every week. He had a blast at Nationals watching with our two girls and my brother who drove down from Texas to Florida to watch the games.
Were you inspired to see so many other women out there mixing it up at this age?
I was just happy. I was amazed to watch the 80-year-olds playing. Watching them I’m like, ‘This is just awesome. I hope this is me 20 years from now!’ I wish I had known about it when I turned 50.
Funny thing is that my dad wanted me to get into golf or tennis and I said, ‘Dad, I have too much basketball I have to be playing’ and he said back, ‘Jody, you aren’t going to be playing basketball when you are 50.’ I vividly remember him saying that, and if he could only see me now – I am playing basketball and I am 60.
What position do you play?
Sometimes I play point guard and other times shooting guard. It depends on where they need me. I have always been aggressive, and I can shoot. But I like to drive and either take the shot or pass to somebody else for an open shot. So, with me being aggressive, I have more people guarding me and that would leave somebody open.
You have a passion for tennis, too. Any plans to compete in that sport?
Basketball was always my thing, but tennis has taken over and is another thing for me to try and master. I have thought about doing it at Nationals, and I have also thought about swimming. I swim for exercise. The basketball was very taxing but I am in good shape. Those four days in Fort Lauderdale were rough. I played with the 55 team and I was exhausted. I don’t go at anything easy! I’m just going to stick to basketball at Senior Games for now.
But it was so much fun to play again, and I met some great people that I will stay in touch with. Everybody was so nice. Everybody’s friendly and talking to you about where you are from and blah blah blah. It was just socially fun. The competition was great too.
When you get to 50, do you think you will be playing basketball in Senior Games, Kylee?
KYLEE: Oh, 100%. God willing that I am able, I will for sure, there’s no question about it. Your dreams don’t need to have age limits. There is no expiration date on things you want to do.