Fighting off Father Time
The Rochester Athletic Club has a minimum age limit for noonball basketball. The maximum, however, is open for discussion.
Many of the players pack away their sneakers as their skills — and body — begin to deteriorate in their 30s and 40s. A few old-timers hang on into their 50s with a combination of ankle/knee/back braces and Ben-Gay. While 60 has typically proved to be the ultimate tipping point, Rochester's Jim Barnhart passed that milestone without any fanfare.
"I never think about quitting," said the 62-year-old, who still plays at least three times a week. "Some people have to talk themselves into coming to play. I have to talk myself out of it."
The Idaho native rarely touched a basketball growing up. Instead, he used his large hands and wiry strength to excel as a high school wrestler. He officially began his noonball habit when he moved to the area in 1970.
Barnhart's 40-year noonball career started at the Rec Center, shifted to the YMCA a few years later and figures to come to a close at the RAC sometime in the next few years. Or decades.
Many of his early give-and-go partners have long since, well, gone. Though such quick movements are not part of his game anymore — he's essentially limited to 3-pointers and a sweeping hook shot — his younger brethren still marvel at his longevity.
"Genetically, he's amazing," said noonballer Tim Erlandson, 49. "I just think of him coming from good stock."
As one of the youngest of 13 children in a rural logging family, manual labor was common growing up. At nearly 63, it remains relatively easy for Barnhart. "Preacher Jim," as his fellow hoopers call him, still spends countless hours each summer and fall creating at least 10 cords of firewood to heat his home through bitter Minnesota winters. But sometimes he climbs trees for fun rather than cutting them down.
Often his words are as powerful — and unlikely — as his deeds.
Barnhart's time away from the court is primarily spent as a pastor at a small church in St. Charles. Prior to that, he created churches in Milleville and Eyota, while also helping establish three others in the area through the American Missionary Fellowship program.
Perhaps his proudest achievement is the continued success of Camp Victory, a non-denominational Christian summer camp on about 200 acres in Zumbro Falls. It was created in 1943, but Jim and his wife, Jan, assumed control almost immediately upon moving to Rochester. Jim remains the Director of Development and sees thousands of youth each summer.
Somehow, those things are all easily linked to his hoops obsession.
Barnhart isn't shy about using basketball analogies in his weekly lessons. The youngest pick up on that quickly, and he's often been challenged to games of 1-on-1 or H-O-R-S-E. A few have even graduated high school — the age restriction at the RAC — to be able to test Barnhart's ever-diminishing athletic ability on the big court.
Basketball acquaintances have also become a funding mechanism for Barnhart's missionary work.
"I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they play ball," said Barnhart, who has had as many as 28 noonballers attend his a fundraising golf tournaments.
But what about those who can no longer play? That's a harsh reality that Barnhart's aching knees tell him is inevitable. He intends to keep strapping on his braces — two ankle, two knee and a back — to help in his quest to fight off Father Time.
"I've got to take up golf or something," he said, spirits high after completing another two-hour noonball session, "for when I get old."