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High Country Mountaineers Basketball Squad Places Fifth in National Senior Games

From left to right: Phil Baughman, Greg Reck, Ray Karaus, Will Warlick, John Spagnolo, Kinney Baughman, Kenn Williamson

By Jesse Wood

On a road trip to the National Senior Games this July, it’s probably a blessing in disguise that the High Country Mountaineers blew a tire in Wisconsin – after the power steering in the team’s van went out and was repaired in Kentucky.

Upon arriving to St. Paul, Minn., the 3-on-3 basketball squad finished fifth in the nation in the 60-plus age division.

The High Country Mountaineers, which features local teammates Greg Reck, Ray Karaus, John Spagnolo and Kinny Baughman, qualified for a chance to compete on the national level by finishing in first place in the N.C. Senior Games in the fall.

With at least nine games in four days, team captain Kinney Baughman brought in Will Warlick of Columbia, S.C., and Kenn Williamson of Tarboro, N.C., for more depth on the bench. Baughman’s brother, Phil, coached the squad.

Overall the team went 5-4, with a 3-2 record during the actual tourney. All of the 16 teams played initial games for seeding in the tournament, and the High Country Mountaineers earned a No. 2 seed.

Through the nine games, the High Country Mountaineers faced the Arkansas Travelers twice – and lost twice. This team features a core of three former University of Central Arkansas teammates plus a former NBA player.

“It was baptism by fire that very first game,” Baughman said. “We had them close with five minutes to go and just two points behind.”

But then Rudy White, who played for the Houston Rockets and three other teams during his five-year stint in the NBA and was coming off the bench on this senior team, started “raining threes” from behind the arc. Baughman said that White shot 11/13 that first game.

Another loss came from the Double Nickels, a team based in the Research Traingle in North Carolina. This three-point loss that Baughman described as a “heartbreaker” sent the High Country Mountaineers into the loser’s bracket of the double elimination tournament.

The elimination loss of the actual tournament came from the Texas Ball Hawgs, a team Baughman described as “really good.” The High Country Mountaineers were exhausted on the ninth game in four days and the Ball Hawgs took ‘em out back for a tour of a Texas woodshed.

“They beat us handily,” Baughman said.

Baughman and crew fought hard. In one game, they came back from double digits at half time to end up winning by double digits. With the randomization of seeding and brackets, the High Country Mountaineers ended up beating the Virginia Warriors for three of its five wins.

Baughman said that about the only disappointment of the trip was not being able to play more teams. Five of its nine games were against the same two teams.

“Overall, we’re very happy with what we did,” Baughman said. “We had one game against the Double Nickels that we should have won. I missed enough shots in that game to win it … We were one shot away from playing for potentially a bronze medal.”

Baughman added that it was a “blast” and the team had a great time in St. Paul, Minn., competing on the court and making friends off the court.

“Maybe it’s age. Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes from living this many years. But each competition gives you not only the opportunity to win, but it also provides you the chance to make a whole slew of new friends,” he said.

The National Senior Games are played every two years, so Baughman said that the team will probably look quite different with new teams in age divisions aside from just 60-plus.

For example, Baughman said that Reck is looking to start a 70-plus team. For the state games this coming fall, the High Country Mountaineers will have a 50-plus and 60-plus aged team competing. Following the tournament, there could be potentially five different aged teams locally trying to qualify for the 2017 games: 50-plus, 55-plus, 60-plus, 65-plus and 70-plus.

“There will be a lot of jostling of players going on after those state tourney games are over,”

More on the Senior Games

North Carolina Senior Games is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing year-round health promotion and education for adults 50 years of age and older.

One of 53 local senior games is held in the High Country every year from early May to mid-June with competitive and noncompetitive events ranging from swimming, running and field events to games such as cornhole, shuffleboard, bocce and bowling to art shows and social events.

The High Country Senior games allows for local fun, fitness, friendship and fellowship, as well as a chance to compete and qualify for the North Carolina Senior Games State Finals, officials said.

For more information on how to become a participant, a sponsor or a volunteer with the High Country Senior Games, contact local coordinator Paul Krause at Watauga County Parks and Recreation at 828-264-9511.