Bob Lutz

Bob Lutz: There's no such thing as too old for sports

From the vault of old-guy sports stories comes 81-year-old Lyle Timmons, a 1949 Andover High graduate and a walk-on player for Wichita State's 1952-53 basketball team that included Cleo Littleton and was coached by Ralph Miller.

Fifty-eight years later, Timmons, 81, is still taking his shot. Lots and lots of shots, as it turns out.

Last year, he won two gold medals in three-point shooting and free-throw shooting at the Huntsman World Senior Games in Utah, where he now lives with his wife of nearly 61 years, Jeanne. He defeated everyone in the 80- to 84-year-old age group, which included more competitors than you would imagine.

The kid who grew up playing sports around the clock is now the senior citizen who can't give them up. Besides shooting a basketball whenever he can, Timmons plays on two softball teams — one that includes men close to his age and another in which he is teammates with twenty- and thirty-somethings who are bloodthirsty about winning.

And he holds his own, he says.

"I got on base 13 of my first 14 at-bats this year,'' Timmons said. "Eleven were because of walks. These kids always want to hit the ball, but I'm from the old school where a walk is as good as a hit.''

Timmons went to work for Beech Aircraft shortly after graduating from Wichita State. He soon went to work for Boeing and was transferred to Seattle to participate in the company's B-52 project. He spent 40 years in Santa Maria, Calif., before moving to Utah, and said he's in Wichita every summer for a family reunion. He has a sister in Wichita and another in Augusta.

He met his wife when they were in school together. She is not a softball and basketball player and gets a laugh out of the fact that the schoolboy she fell in love with has retained a schoolboy's love for playing sports.

"He's always been full of energy, always loved sports,'' Jeanne Timmons said. "I didn't know him back when he first became interested, but I know it was at a very early age. Sports are just a part of his life.''

Timmons grew up in east Wichita, near the old Minneha Elementary building, and threw himself into basketball as a seventh-grader at Robinson.

"We'd play during lunch time there at school, then we'd have a team practice for a couple of hours and then I'd hitchhike home and practice until dark on a basket my dad put on an outhouse,'' Timmons said. "We rigged up a light so I could play after dark.''

By the end of that first season at Robinson, Timmons said, he could shoot better than any of his teammates. As a senior at Andover, he said he averaged 15 points for a team that rarely scored more than 35 or 40.

He tried out for Wichita State's freshman team in 1950, but could tell he wasn't going to get much of an opportunity. So he played for town teams until his junior year when friends so impressed by his shooting in a P.E. class convinced him to try out for the Shockers again.

Miller kept Timmons around, although he only played in games that were not in doubt.

"I would be sitting on the bench at the old Forum where we played and my buddies from P.E. class would be chanting, 'We want Timmons, We Want Timmons,' " Timmons said. "Pretty soon ol' Ralph would look down the bench and give me the signal to go into the game. It was my friends who got me in there, I think.''

The shooting contest at the Huntsman games consisted of combining the points from 25 free-throw attempts and six three-point shots. Timmons' 23 points were two more than the runner-up and he also teamed with two other seniors to win another gold medal in the three-on-three competition.

Timmons wasn't the go-to guy on his 3-on-3 team, he said. That distinction belonged to a cat-like 74-year-old.

"I've hit 21 three-pointers in a row before, about five years ago,'' Timmons said. "And when I'm practicing a lot, I can make 22 or 23 out of 25 free throws. I think 17 free throws is the most I made in the (Huntsman Games). It's a little different in competition.''

His young softball teammates on the Spanish Fork Angels have given Timmons the nickname "Sparky," because of his first name, which was the last name of former New York Yankees relief pitcher Sparky Lyle.

When asked what he does when a line drive is hit back through the box while he's pitching, Timmons responded: "I catch it."

Despite occasional pleas from his wife to slow down, Timmons lives for the game. The competition drives him.

"The only thing I care about,'' Jeanne Timmons said, 'is that he doesn't get hurt. I was talking to my doctor about how active he is and he told me a story about how his father was on a tractor every day, working 25 acres of land. If you took that away from them, they'd probably sit down and die. So I don't fuss with him about it.''

Good thing, because Timmons has no plans to back off.

He has a softball game Friday night. He's going to continue shooting baskets as long as he can lift the ball to his shoulders.

"I'm not going to slow down,'' said Timmons, who does have a tinge of arthritis in both hands. "As long as I have my Celebrex.''