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Graduating senior: Art Ellison, 70, closes out stint in basketball league

  • Art Ellison, right, keeps his eye on the ball while charging down the court during his final game in the Green Street Community Center's adult recreation league on Friday night, February 22, 2014. Ellison played in the league over 30 years and was the program's oldest player. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Art Ellison, right, keeps his eye on the ball while charging down the court during his final game in the Green Street Community Center's adult recreation league on Friday night, February 22, 2014. Ellison played in the league over 30 years and was the program's oldest player.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Art Ellison, right, embraces his grandson Camden Bates, 3, while greeting his family, including his daughter Anna Bates, right, and granddaughter Abigail, 1, on Friday night at the Green Street Community Center in Concord. The family traveled from Newburyport, Mass. to surprise Ellison at his final game after 30 years of playing with the Green Street Community Center's Adult Recreation Basketball League. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Art Ellison, right, embraces his grandson Camden Bates, 3, while greeting his family, including his daughter Anna Bates, right, and granddaughter Abigail, 1, on Friday night at the Green Street Community Center in Concord. The family traveled from Newburyport, Mass. to surprise Ellison at his final game after 30 years of playing with the Green Street Community Center's Adult Recreation Basketball League.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Camden Bates, 3, smooths out his shirt after removing his winter coat at the Green Street Community Center on Friday night, February 21, 2014 in Concord. Bates and his family brought a hand made sign that reads "Way to go, Grandpa!" for Art Ellison, the community center adult recreation league's oldest basketball player, who played his final game on Friday. Bates's mother Anna said that he said the figure on his shirt was his grandfather when he put it on earlier that day. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Camden Bates, 3, smooths out his shirt after removing his winter coat at the Green Street Community Center on Friday night, February 21, 2014 in Concord. Bates and his family brought a hand made sign that reads "Way to go, Grandpa!" for Art Ellison, the community center adult recreation league's oldest basketball player, who played his final game on Friday. Bates's mother Anna said that he said the figure on his shirt was his grandfather when he put it on earlier that day.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Art Ellison, left, reaches for the ball during his final game playing with the Green Street Community Center's adult recreation league on Friday night, February 22, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Art Ellison, left, reaches for the ball during his final game playing with the Green Street Community Center's adult recreation league on Friday night, February 22, 2014.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Art Ellison, right, looks at photos brought in by a friend of a basketball game played over 25 years ago at White Park in Concord while on a break from his final game with the Green Street Community Center's adult recreation league on Friday night, February 22, 2014. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Art Ellison, right, looks at photos brought in by a friend of a basketball game played over 25 years ago at White Park in Concord while on a break from his final game with the Green Street Community Center's adult recreation league on Friday night, February 22, 2014.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Art Ellison, right, keeps his eye on the ball while charging down the court during his final game in the Green Street Community Center's adult recreation league on Friday night, February 22, 2014. Ellison played in the league over 30 years and was the program's oldest player. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Art Ellison, right, embraces his grandson Camden Bates, 3, while greeting his family, including his daughter Anna Bates, right, and granddaughter Abigail, 1, on Friday night at the Green Street Community Center in Concord. The family traveled from Newburyport, Mass. to surprise Ellison at his final game after 30 years of playing with the Green Street Community Center's Adult Recreation Basketball League. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Camden Bates, 3, smooths out his shirt after removing his winter coat at the Green Street Community Center on Friday night, February 21, 2014 in Concord. Bates and his family brought a hand made sign that reads "Way to go, Grandpa!" for Art Ellison, the community center adult recreation league's oldest basketball player, who played his final game on Friday. Bates's mother Anna said that he said the figure on his shirt was his grandfather when he put it on earlier that day. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Art Ellison, left, reaches for the ball during his final game playing with the Green Street Community Center's adult recreation league on Friday night, February 22, 2014. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Art Ellison, right, looks at photos brought in by a friend of a basketball game played over 25 years ago at White Park in Concord while on a break from his final game with the Green Street Community Center's adult recreation league on Friday night, February 22, 2014. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

It was his moment. But Art Ellison’s thoughts were on someone else.

The 70-year-old was surrounded by friends, family and teammates congratulating him on a long playing career in the Concord Men’s Basketball League, one stretching all the way back to the late 1970s, but after hearing story after story about himself, Ellison wanted to shift the spotlight.

“It’s about the people,” he said. “It’s about the people that I played with. . . . The spirit here, the people are here to have a good time, the people are here to support each other.”

Those people were the ones congratulating Ellison at Green Street Community Center for a career that is coming to a close this year, as the league’s oldest player is retiring after 36 years in the league, hundreds of games played and countless bumps, bruises and scrapes – all of them, he said, worth their while.

“For me, basketball has always been sort of a release from my work and everything else,” said Ellison, an administrator in the state’s Department of Education. “I think I get as much, psychologically, out of it as I do physically.”

You don’t get to playing a demanding sport competitively at age 70 without a passion for the game, and Ellison’s peers and relatives had plenty to say about his commitment.

“It’s been a huge part of his life,” said Anna Bates, his daughter and a former Concord High School player who came up from Newburyport, Mass., for the occasion.

“He used to play on Sundays over at White Park, and they used to be shoveling off the court when it was still snowy out to get the games started.”

Ellison joined Andy Pappas’s league in 1978, and when his age climbed, avenues opened up that allowed him to stay competitive. Pappas started an over-35 league, and close to 25 years ago Ellison joined its Joe King’s team – where he’s been since, and with whom he played yesterday in a 65-52 win over Goodale’s Bike Shop.

“I think it was love of the game,” Ellison said when asked what has kept him going. “After doing it for so long, every day, that becomes part of my day. I go to work, I build in an hour in the middle of the day for basketball, and I count on that.”

Thirty-six years in the league have taken their toll, however.

Ellison plays with a pacemaker, and has been through three of them. He’s torn his Achilles, a nightmare injury for any player. He’s torn thigh muscles. The gray knee pads he wears to games aren’t for show.

“There’s people that cry about playing with a sprained finger,” Pappas said, “and this guy’s out here with a pacemaker playing basketball.”

Ellison waves it all off. It’s part of the game, he said. What he couldn’t fight off was the growing age disparity, as playing games started to mean going up against players half his age.

“I can’t keep up with this, at this pace,” he said. “This game, people are just too young.”

His teammates and opponents aren’t ready to agree. They point to his steady jumper, one that gave him two of his four points in his team’s win yesterday, and his experience as areas that have helped him remain a sneaky good player.

“His shot, it’s tough,” teammate Todd Ringelstein said. “When he takes it, it’s going to go in. He doesn’t take it often, but when he does, it goes in.”

That shot factored into one of the highlights of the post-game ceremony. Pappas pointed to a green “X” on the court, just inside the baseline, a step or two in from the 3-point line.

It was Ellison’s favorite place to shoot – and, Pappas joked, his now official spot on the court.

Later in the event, Pappas noted that Ellison’s retirement was leaving an opponent that night, Doug Ricard, as the league’s eldest player at 67 years old. It was a fitting passing of the torch – Ellison and Ricard have played together on numerous over-35 teams at tournaments throughout New England.

“He has great respect for the game, the opponent, his teammates,” Ricard said. “If you come here Tuesdays and Thursdays, he’s playing. If you go to the (YMCA), he’s playing. He’s in great shape. We all wish we were in that shape when we’re going to be 70.”

The men’s league is a finished chapter, but basketball isn’t. This is the same guy who admitted he became “grumpy” when a knee injury sidelined him last year. Basketball’s a part of him, and with the YMCA and senior Olympic tournaments still on the agenda, he’s not about to give it up.

“I’m going to be playing basketball every day,” he said. “I’ll get plenty of basketball.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

Congratulations Art. I remember playing at the YMCA in the late 70's when I was playing for Bishop Brady. You would always be there with your trademark glasses, headband you always used to wear and the unforgettable baseline jumper you were so well known for. Moving on in years I can relate to the bumps and bruises that take a toll on you. I have been playing with a pacemaker and now have had to give the sport away due to one hip replacement and another scheduled soon. I take my hat off you to. Best wishes, Tim Sullivan formerly of Concord, now residing in Australia for the past 30 years.

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