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Friends of the Court

Assisted-living facility residents adopt women’s basketball team

The Grizzly Grandparents group at Franklin has grown so large that even coaches and the team manager are paired with residents of a nearby assisted-living facility. RENEE KNIGHT / FRANKLIN COLLEGE PHOTO

So 50 grandparents walk into a gym …

That isn’t a setup to a bad joke: It’s the scene that happens when the Franklin College women’s basketball team takes the court. At road games, heads turn and a relative hush falls over the crowd. Bemused, the home team slows its warm-up, sometimes stopping altogether, as opposing players watch dozens of people – some with canes, many white-haired, all clad in gold – amble in and make their way to seats just behind the Grizzlies’ bench, ready to taunt and cheer and wave pompoms like they are in high school again.

Franklin’s most reliable fans, dubbed the Grizzly Grandparents, range in age from their late 50s all the way to 105-year-old John Adolph, who arrives at games in a wheelchair. Armed with stuffed grizzlies, personalized cheers and unwavering support for the team, the group can be counted on to be at every home game and a few road games.

Their devotion, in part, has helped the team’s attendance swell: Last season, Franklin drew the second-largest average home crowds (880) in Division III women’s basketball.

“If we’re in a huddle, the Grizzly Grandparents are leaning over the bench right there in the huddle with us,” Franklin coach Dana Haggenjos says. “It’s refreshing to know you have that kind of support.”

The Grizzly Grandparents group, started in 2007, was the brainchild of 87-year-old retired Marine Fuz Waskom and former Franklin women’s basketball coach Kim Eiler. The two came up with the idea that residents of the Indiana Masonic Home, an assisted-living and nursing home a half-mile from the college’s Spurlock Center, would become the team’s most vociferous supporters.

The details? Each Grizzly Grandparent would “adopt” a player and commit to supporting her throughout the season. At first, there were barely enough Grandparents to pair with each player on the team, but the program’s ranks have swelled to more than 50.

Junior forward Sarah Taylor’s Grizzly Grandparents, Fred and Fran Carter, have become like another set of real grandparents; birthday cards and home-cooked meals have become the norm. The Carters have even joined Taylor’s family for a few dinners out. She says the experience has been an unexpected highlight of her time on the team.

“They keep our spirits high,” Taylor says.

During a game against Anderson University (Indiana) last season, Taylor absorbed a blow from an opponent that drew blood, but the referee called no foul. As she recovered, she heard one voice above the crowd.

“Hey, that’s a foul!” Fred Carter screamed. “That’s my granddaughter!”

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Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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