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Love letters in the Pit

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Pat Boone, 85, right, has his photo taken with Karen Smith of Park Ridge, N.J., after a National Senior Games basketball contest played at Dreamstyle Arena on Tuesday. Boone, the former teen idol, plays for the Virginia Creepers. He’s not known as the best player on the team, but he certainly draws fans. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Pat Boone still knows how to work a stage.

Tuesday’s venue was a bit different for the veteran singer/entertainer, who worked the basketball court at UNM’s Rudy Davalos Center adjacent to Dreamstyle Arena. Boone is a player for the Virginia Creepers, a men’s 80-plus age division team competing in the 2019 National Senior Games, being held in Albuquerque this year.

Boone’s opening show was a success. The Creepers rolled to a 34-18 win over Pass It 2 Me in a half court, 3-on-3 contest.

The Virginia-based team is scheduled to play two more pool games today at Highland High School (10 a.m. and noon tipoffs) before advancing to bracket play Thursday and Friday at Dreamstyle Arena and the Davalos Center.

Boone, who recently turned 85, played a complementary role in Tuesday’s opener. He played the last few minutes of each half, attempted three shots and picked up an assist. His one make – roughly a 15-foot-jumper – was waved off by game officials because he didn’t take the ball beyond the three-point line before shooting.

Boone threw his hands up and groaned at the call.

Pat Boone, center, reaches for the ball during a National Senior Games basketball contest. Boone, 85, a former singer and movie star known for his wholesome values, plays for the Virginia Creepers. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

“Too bad,” he said. “One of my other shots looked like it was going in, too, but it bounced off the rim.”

Boone’s shooting percentage hardly mattered. His best work was done after the game.

Dozens of fans – a majority of them female – crowded onto the court to meet, shake hands and have photos taken with Boone. Virginia Creepers coach Al Richardson shook his head and smiled.

“Look at Pat Boone with all the women,” Richardson said. “What else is new?”

Boone had more than 25 singles reach the Top 20 on the U.S. singles charts, with “Ain’t That a Shame” (1955), “I Almost Lost My Mind” (1956) and “Love Letters in the Sand” (1957) among his No. 1 hits. He set a Billboard record for spending 220 consecutive weeks on the charts.

Boone, who lives in Beverly Hills, Calif., said he represents a Virginia-based business, which is how he got connected with the Creepers. He’s competed with them at numerous tournaments, including previous National Senior Games.

He is not the team’s best player, but Boone is easily the Creepers’ biggest draw.

“We were playing a tournament in Birmingham (Ala.) and there was no one in the stands,” Richardson said. “Then word got out that Pat would be joining us and there were 60 people at our next game. There are so many positives about having him on our team. He brings so many smiles to people and he’s so gracious. Not a bad jumper either.”

Boone uses NSGA appearances to serve as an advocate for healthy living and Christian values. It’s a decades-long pursuit for the former milk spokesman and pop star best known for an impressive string of “wholesome” hits in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

While his presence on the national charts ultimately faded, Boone remained popular through movies, television and an ever-evolving musical style. Boone has released albums ranging from gospel to pop to country – with one brief foray into heavier music. His 1997 album, “In a Metal Mood,” featured covers of songs by the likes of Alice Cooper, Metallica and Boone’s onetime neighbor, Ozzy Osbourne.

But Boone never wavered from his core beliefs and even turned down songs and movie roles, including one alongside Marilyn Monroe, that he felt might send the wrong message.

Even now, 64 years after recording his first album, Boone offers a simple formula for success.

“Milk, exercise and a clean conscience,” he said. “I’m so blessed to be alive and capable, but it doesn’t happen by accident. My conscience is clear because I’ve been forgiven and I’m healthy because of all the milk I drink. I did have to switch to lowfat, though, years ago.”

As for his basketball longevity, Boone credits a longtime love of the sport.

He once owned an American Basketball Association franchise, the Oakland Oaks, that won an ABA championship in 1969 behind star Rick Barry. Boone proudly sports Barry’s uniform number, 24, on his Virginia Creepers jersey.

“I’m the only player out here who owned a pro team that won a championship,” Boone said. “I’ve got to try to acquit myself reasonably well.

“I still think I did better as a singer, though.”