Long Strange Journey to New Gold
SFFD OLD Win Division 2
By Tom Kurpinsky

‘Youth and strength can seldom surpass old age and treachery’. That was the quote I found on my computer desk when I got home from the San Diego California Firefighters Olympics. What a week it was. (Or for some of us two weeks.) It should probably be against the law to have as much fun as we did and still get the chance to win another Gold Medal in yet another division (uncharted waters for us) against much younger opponents. Okay, let me explain.

We again tried to enter our team in the 39 and over competition. The problem was there was only one other team. So they offered us the chance to play in division 2 which is made up of teams that have under 500 people in there department. We really didn’t want to play in that division as most of the teams are pretty young. With not many other options, we didn’t want to play in the open division, we chose to give it a try. As Uncle Saul put it, at least we’ll get five games. Going in I think we all thought that would probably be all we’d get. No one was really talking about winning any medals. We set out with our original old guys but we were smart enough to pick up a couple of young guys. We made a little deal with the Rob Dotson crew. We played with: Dave Long, Gary Bradford, Dan Armenta, Treut Sperry, Willie Durkin, Kevin Shea, Mike Thompson, Derrick Wing, Tom Kurpinsky and Coach Jeff Moreno.

The tournament was set up with 3 pool games first and then a single elimination tourney. We played our first game against Grove Valley who were winners of the Gold the previous year, thank you committee. We got spanked. We lost by 12 but it really wasn’t that close. We played bad and looked old. Were we out of our league? Well we had two hours to think about it before the next game. On the way into the gym before playing Tracy Fire, the older guys on the team were commenting how the players walking in reminded us of our sons. Dan Armenta asked one of them how old he was in which he responded 24. Uncle Saul told him, ‘I have shoes older than that’. They laughed and we laughed and then the game began. Old guys diving on the floor for balls and out hustling the younger players. I wish you could have seen the look on their faces. This would turn out to be our only easy win but it was a start. We would have to keep finding ways to win. The next day we beat Burbank Fire in a close game to give us second in our pool. All the teams that were first in their pool got a bye, we would be playing an extra game.

So on Thursday we started the single elimination tournament against San Ramon. As was the problem all week, we just never really shot well. It made us realize we had to continue to play defense if we were going to have any chance at all for the Gold. After getting down by 10 early, we had a second half surge and won in overtime. This was a big win. Would we have anything left for game number two of the day?

Next up a fresh Oakland team. They were sitting in the wings waiting for us. I have to admit I was surprised when we beat them. We opened up a lead and held them off down the stretch. They were young and athletic and we still beat them, maybe that quote is true? The old guys were still alive and headed into the last day for the Medal Round.

On Friday there were only four teams left and we had to open with a rather young and cocky team from Glendale. Their point guard went off early and they opened up a nice early 12-point lead. We knew we had to play defense. For me this was a great day of basketball. It was also probably my best games of the week. Like several of the others I was playing myself into shape and understanding what I could do and couldn’t against these players. I wish I had time to tell you of the many great plays during these games but this is probably to long already. I think it all started with Gary Bradford. Gary had played well throughout the week but there was something different about him this day. It was like he turned back the clock and became the ‘young’ Bradford. He wanted the ball and you could tell. He set the tone and led the way. All we had to do was follow him and we finally did. We came back and beat Glendale putting us into the Gold Medal Game. We had a chance to do something special. Win a Gold in a division that we would normally never get to play in. And what Poetic Justice awaited us. We would get a chance to avenge our only loss of the week. We got to play Grove Valley again. As Vati Moreno put it before the game when a member of Grove Valley asked who won the previous game, Jeff said, “we won, now YOU have to play US”. That team member couldn’t believe we won. Well they started the game off the same way they ended the last game we played against them. So I guess they weren’t intimidated by us. They jumped out to a 13-point lead. As usual we couldn’t score. We just struggled again as we had done every game. So we again did what we had to, play defense. Play solid defense until we could score and eventually we would. We started our comeback before the half and trailed by only 3 at half time. We started the second half-strong and opened up a 10 point lead for ourselves with about 5 minutes to go. You guessed it, it wasn’t going to be that easy. They made their move and had it down to 3 with the ball in the closing seconds but failed to get off the last shot. We were the Gold Medal Winners. I know just recently that I said the World Gold might have been the best. Well this was another best. The journey to it was hard and long yet it was so much fun. I wondered after that game how many more days of basketball games like that will I get a chance to play in?

This was a great week of basketball, friendship and fun. Dave Long was a warrior. Scoring, blocking shots and using his fouls. (more playing time for the bench) Gary Bradford did it all. Dan Armenta kept our spirit alive and challenged us when we were at our most vulnerable after that first loss. Treut Sperry scoring, passing and doing all the little things that make us a better team. Having Derrick Wing, Mike Thompson and Kevin Shea to inject some young legs to the group really was a bonus. They played well and added a much needed youthful element to our game. I hope all of you had fun playing with us. Then there was my ‘Cous’ Willie Durkin. It’s always a plus to have Willie on your team. Willie keeps us ‘real’. Coach Moreno? He may be no Jimmy Carey in the coaching box but boy he knows how to keep you loose. How many guys can make you laugh at anything? Trying to be serious? Your down by 13 and he has a huddle break saying on three ‘DEFENSE VATI E VATI’. We walk out all laughing and the other team thinks we are nuts. They thought they should be laughing because they were ahead. Thanks for keeping us loose Vati. That’s one thing we’ve learned in our old age, you have to stay even keeled. Don’t panic, your time will come and it did, again.

To all the team, it was great playing with you and winning with you. We have such great history together I feel we just keep putting more layers of icing on our already DELICIOUS CAKE. To all of you who came out to our games thank you. It is always great to see your faces. I hope we make you happy you came out to watch. To the youngsters who hang with us throughout, WE LOVE YOU! You guys are a big reason we still play the game. So what do we do next year? Defend the Gold in Division 2? Go 39 and over? Do we have a Mantra? Is it true that ‘youth and strength can seldom surpass old age and treachery’? It looks like we still have a lot of questions to answer boys. So to all of you who can still lace up your shoes I’ll see you on the hardcourts in 2002!!!!!

Photo provided by Tom Kurpinsky


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