Retired Chief Informations Systems Technician (SW/AW/IDW) Brian Rice, age 43, has played in all nine of Division III Geneva College's basketball games this season. (Courtesy of Geneva College)
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Age is just a number. For a 43-year-old retired chief, it's a higher number than usual in his part-time vocation — college basketball player.
After retiring in January, Chief Information Systems Technician (SW/AW/IDW) Brian Rice returned to his home north of Pittsburgh. The ordained minister wanted to spread the word through community outreach efforts while finishing his college degree.
That led him to nearby Geneva College, a major in community ministry ... and something unexpected, but welcome.
While serving in Italy on his last deployment, he told himself, "You know what, if I go back to a Division III school, I'm trying out for the team," he said in a Dec. 13 interview. "I can still keep up."
He considered college hoops upon graduation from New Castle High School in 1987, but enlisted instead. The Navy lived up to its recruiting poster, sending him to Alaska, Spain and Bahrain, among other places. He served on the carrier Midway from 1988 to 1990; it's now a museum, one that hosted a college basketball game last month.
A quarter century after signing up — with a daughter, Brittany, about to graduate from college, paid for in part by his transferred GI Bill benefits — Rice returned to the classroom and the court. He credits his ability to keep up with players younger than Brittany to a lifelong love of fitness, with an assist from some time spent training alongside a whole different kind of team.
"When I was stationed with the SEALs [an East Coast unit, 2000-2003, per Navy records], it was ... just seeing how, when you're in tip-top shape, you can peak as an athlete," he said.
He's made some concessions to Father Time. Rice is no longer a "pure two," as he put it — a shooting guard who does damage from all over the court — but mostly away from the rim. He's now a swingman, coming off the bench and wading into battle for rebounds under the hoop.
His teammates, naturally, call him "Chief."
In almost 60 minutes spread over nine games this season, he's scored 17 points and pulled down 15 rebounds.
He's taken two 3-pointers. He's missed both.
"You learn to adjust," he said. "The military taught me to do that."
Word of a 43-year-old on the court at Geneva (1-8) — a school that claims to have played in the first collegiate basketball game, beating a YMCA team in 1893 while using peach baskets instead of nets — has spread. Rice said Dec. 13 he'd done two TV interviews with two more scheduled and talked to a half-dozen other outlets. And traffic on his Facebook page has been "amazing."
While he's got a slice of the spotlight, Rice has a simple message for sailors considering life after service: "It is never too late. I want people to think, ‘You know what, if he's doing this, there might be a chance.'"
Rice plans to play next season — the final year of his degree-completion program.
What about those last two seasons of college hoops eligibility?
"There's some master's programs here I'm looking into," he said.