Veterans Day Special: Florida Senior Games athlete honed basketball skills during career in U.S. Air Force
These days in basketball gyms around the country, Harry Carothers steps behind an arched line 19 feet and 9 inches away from a goal and launches a three-point satellite toward the basket. More times than not, he’s successful.
His days of launching three-point satellites began long before he began competing in Florida Senior Games basketball shooting events in 1999. During a portion of his 28-year Air Force career, leading to retiring as a Colonel in 1993, he flew C-130 aircraft into small spots like a basketball hoops and was a member of teams that launched satellites from Delta II rockets.
His path to becoming a successful Air Force Colonel began during his college years at Lehigh University where all freshmen and sophomores were required to participate in Army or Air Force ROTC. After completing the mandatory two years of the program, Carothers continued in the program for his junior and senior years, and upon graduation, he was commissioned into the Air Force as an officer.
“I knew I was going to be drafted by the Army once I finished college,” Carothers said, “so I chose this Air Force program.”
Prior to graduating in 1964, a new Air Force-funded flying program made possible a year of flying lessons for Carothers during his senior year. He showed his athletic prowess early and was one of only six candidates to pass the required Air Force physical exam to qualify for the program. After the lessons and a year of Air Force pilot training, Carothers became a C-130 airlift pilot.
“It was extremely versatile and fun to fly,” he said. “Even though it was a big plane, it was made to land at small airfields, even on dirt runways. It was a very rugged airplane. It had anti-skid brakes which were new at the time but almost all cars have them now. When you flew into a small airfield, you applied full pressure on the brakes and pulled the throttles into full reverse to stop.”
For two years, Carothers was stationed in Taiwan and flew missions into Vietnam to resupply Army and Marine ground troops, often times taking on enemy fire.
“Sometimes we would fly in at 20,000 feet and spiral downward, rollout and come around into some really small airstrips,” Carothers describes in a calm, nonchalant voice. “It was really fun flying.”
On one such mission, Carothers describes a dramatic story of turning the C-130 plane around for an emergency landing just after taking off over a trap set by enemy troops. As the aircraft was taking off and climbing over the end of the runway, machine gun fire from the ground began filling the bottom of the plane with holes. Carothers and his crew escaped injury because of the lead-lined seats equipped on the plane.
An empty, external fuel tank was hit and exploded. One engine quit operating and its propeller was feathered. With fumes still in the fuel tank, it caught on fire and the fire spread to the wing. Carothers and crew turned the C-130 around and landed at the airfield which was under attack. Once on the ground, the crew and passengers evacuated, and the airplane continued burning on the runway. Once the fire burned itself out, a bulldozer pushed the charred plane off the runway, allowing other flights to come and go.
After his service in Vietnam, Carothers was stationed in Hawaii for five years and flew classified C-130 missions to support satellite space missions related to intelligence gathering.
“It was highly classified stuff,” Carothers remarked. “It’s not done any longer.”
After 12 years of flying, he became involved in Air Force acquisition management, buying new airplanes from manufacturers like Lockheed-Martin and McDonnell-Douglas for the Air Force. Finally, he moved to Los Angeles where he became involved in Air Force Space Division programs. Carothers became part of a team launching Delta II Rockets with GPS satellites into orbit. Carothers shared responsibility for 15 successful rocket launches at Cape Canaveral and served as media spokesperson for the first launch of a production GPS satellite.
He retired as a Colonel in 1993 and moved from the west coast to the Tampa Bay area to be close to MacDill Air Force Base and his parents.
During his time in the military, Harry was always conscious of fitness. He spent time at the gym almost every day. Air Force personnel were given an annual fitness test where they were required to run 1 ½ miles in a certain time, depending on their age. In Carothers’ final test before retirement, he finished the 1 ½ mile run within the required time for the fastest category of the youngest age group, under 10 minutes 15 seconds.
“I always encouraged others to focus on fitness and spend as much time in the gym as possible,” he said. “If it took time out of their work in the middle of the day, I told them to make up the time missed at the end of the day.”
Now competing in the 75-79 age group in the Florida Senior Games, he plays half-court, 3-on-3 basketball. When not in Florida Senior Games events, Carothers plays full court basketball with “players in their 20’s and 30’s, three times a week at the YMCA.”
He has been competing in the Florida Senior Games Basketball Shooting competition since 1999 and as a member of the Clearwater Aces 3-on-3 team since 1998. Over the last 19 years, Carothers has collected 56 state championship gold medals. He has won the gold medal in his age group for Timed Field Goal Shooting — where athletes try to hit as many shots as possible in three one-minute periods — for 19 consecutive years.
Carothers, who specializes in the three-point shot, had a Florida Senior Games Time Field Goal Shooting record score in 2005 of 152. The score represented a total of 30 made three pointers in three one-minute periods.
Given Carothers’ prowess on the basketball court, Florida Senior Games Basketball Sport Director, Richard Blaylock, of Gainesville was unfazed when he found out the extent of his military service.
“It doesn’t surprise me at all that Harry had such an interesting and successful career in the Air Force,” said Blaylock, who has known Carothers for more than 10 years as an athlete. “The discipline it takes to be as successful as he was in the Air Force is a reason why he is still so active and successful in athletic competition. Every year, I make sure to go over any rule changes with him because he knows them better than anyone else playing. If I’m wrong on something, he’ll call me out on it.”
On Saturday, December 8, Carothers will be on the court at the Highland Recreation Center in Largo, launching three-point shots en route to what will certainly be a Florida Senior Games gold-medal winning performance.
For more about the Florida Senior Games, visit www.floridaseniorgames.com.
About the Florida Sports Foundation
Florida’s Sports Industry creates over $57.4 billion in economic impact for the Sunshine State, provides over 580,000 jobs for its citizens, and attracts over 16 million out of state visitors each year. All of which deservingly make Florida the “Sports Capital of the World”. The Florida Sports Foundation, Inc. is a 501(C)3 non-profit corporation, serving as the Sports Industry Development Division of Enterprise Florida, Inc. The mission of the Florida Sports Foundation is to:
- Assist Florida’s communities with securing, hosting and retaining Sporting events and sports related business that generate significant economic impact and Sports Tourism for the state of Florida through the Foundation’s grant programs, legislative initiatives and Industry Partner service, recognition and development.
- Provide the citizens of Florida with participation opportunities in the Sunshine State Games and Florida Senior Games events.
- Serve as Florida’s leading resource for Sport Tourism research and facts.
- Assist in the promotion of targeted leisure sports industries in Florida.
- Assist National and Florida State Governing Bodies to promote amateur sport development through the Sunshine State Games and hosting events in Florida.