Katie Bergeron was genuinely excited to be in the Southern Maine Community College gym this week.
Basketball has been a huge part of her young life, so it isn’t surprising that the Seawolves’ first-year women’s basketball head coach could be found on the court.
What makes the experience unusual is with whom the Bradley native, and former Old Town High School and Bowdoin College hoop standout, is hanging out.
On SMCC’s picturesque South Portland campus that overlooks Casco Bay, a group of more than 40 women ages 50 and older have gathered this week for the annual “Never Too Late Basketball Camp.”
— SMCC Seawolves (@SMCCseawolves) August 4, 2016
Deb Smith of South Portland, a board member for the National Senior Games, is the founder of the program, which is in its 10th year. The former high school and collegiate player has continued to compete while encouraging others in the AARP crowd to do the same.
Through Sunday, a group of women who remain passionate about basketball are learning skills and strategies and are playing competitive games at “Never Too Late.”
“It’s like the coolest thing that I’ve ever been a part of, and I’ve been on a lot of teams,” said the 28-year-old Bergeron, who played professionally after graduating from Bowdoin in 2011.
There are some Maine mainstays, former high school and college players, but there also is a strong contingent from outside the state involved. The oldest camper is 72.
For some of the women, it is the first time they have participated. That group includes Lebra (Martin) Bergeron, Katie’s mom, who played on Penobscot Valley High School’s 1977 Eastern Maine championship team.
Katie Bergeron was quick to point out that the women’s skills should not be taken lightly.
“There’s some women (here) who can ball,” she said, pointing to her mother’s observations after Thursday’s first sessions.
“My mom’s good, but she’s like, ‘Katie, what did you get me into? … I haven’t touched a ball in five years,'” Katie explained.
For many others, the “Never Too Late” camp has become a bit of a tradition. And for most of the women, their efforts have a purpose.
Katie Bergeron explained that a lot of the campers compete regularly in three-on-three competitions and that some have been preparing to play in the upcoming National Senior Games tournament. Maine teams have won Gold medals at those competitions in the past.
Some of the women attending the camp are pretty serious about the game. They are put through defense, ballhandling and rebounding stations and are taught offensive and defensive concepts.
“They try to put people at the same skill level — ish — together,” Bergeron said. “They ask a lot of questions. They just want to get better.”
Former Hampden Academy and University of New England star Amanda Rodgerson Devitt is serving as the camp director. She first got involved when the camp started at SMCC 10 years ago.
Also on the staff are Cape Elizabeth native Biz Houghton, who played at Boston College, along with former UMaine standout and Mt. Ararat girls coach Kelly Nobert LaFountain. Michelle Whitmore of South Portland also has worked the camp all 10 years.
Bergeron is thrilled to be able to spend time in the gym with such a dedicated group of women who share her passion for basketball.
“It’s incredible,” she said.