Ellen McKenzie and Lisa Mahan of Portland can’t wait to turn 50 next year. That will make their senior women’s 3-on-3 basketball team, Team Endo, eligible to qualify for the National Senior Games.
And after all these years, Ellen and Lisa have some unfinished business to attend to on the basketball court. You might say it’s a twin thing.
“In high school, we didn’t get to play together a lot,” says Lisa, who, along with her twin sister Ellen, graduated from Portland High School in 1982. “Playing now with Ellen, I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had.”
Not that Ellen and Lisa haven’t had a lot of fun being identical twins with an identical passion for sports. Growing up with seven siblings, Ellen and Lisa always had someone to play with. Their house at the foot of Munjoy Hill bumped up against a playground back then, and they always had a built-in partner to shoot around with. Rarely, though, did they compete against each other in games of one-on-one. Unlike most siblings, neither of them gained any satisfaction from besting the other one. In fact, they didn’t really enjoy it when they had to guard each other in practice because “you just don’t work as hard,” Lisa says.
Luckily, they had different skills and played different positions. It was as if they took care to develop their own specialties so they could not be compared. While Ellen has a deadly shot from 3-point range, Lisa’s movements close to the basket are almost unstoppable.
“We could find satisfaction in each other’s accomplishments,” says Ellen, the older twin by 25 minutes. “If I had a bad game and she did well, I’d be excited if she scored so many points.”
Ellen, who works as an outpatient clinician for Tri County Mental Health and Connections for Kids, doesn’t think this generosity of spirit is a twin thing. Ellen co-parents two teenage twin boys who aren’t the least bit magnanimous with each other.
“I think girls just tend to be closer in that way,” she says.
Lisa and Ellen admit that their twinship makes them much closer than most sisters are. Their significant others acknowledge that it’s a bond no one else can really get between. In fact, Lisa’s 13-year-old daughter Madison calls it “the twin thing.”
“We had our own language until we were 3,” says Lisa. “Only one of our brothers could understand us. Mom would always ask him, ‘What are they saying?’”
Both Lisa – who has three children and works for the state of Maine judicial system – and Ellen have spent much of their adult years coaching their kids in youth sports. Now that the kids are older, they’re excited about the chance to carve out some playing time for themselves. To prepare for their debut on the senior circuit next year, they have been playing as much pick-up ball on Saturday mornings as they can. And Team Endo has entered a few 3-on-3 tournaments where there was no strict age limit.
Funny thing, though. When the twins first got back on the court together, they found they weren’t as in synch with each other as you’d expect two people who had their own language as toddlers to be. For some reason, Ellen, the point guard who starts the play at the top of the key, was ignoring Lisa inside. It was as if passing the ball to her sister would be viewed as selfish.
“That was our style,” says Ellen. “I didn’t want others to feel left out, I guess.”
After someone that was playing against them noticed this, Ellen began looking to pass to Lisa when she was open. The team has really started to click since then.
“It’s like a new beginning for us,” Lisa says. “Yesterday, she was feeding me the ball and I said, ‘Oh yeah, thanks Deb (to the woman who pointed it out.)’”
“It’s definitely better for the team,” Ellen agrees.
And it’s still very much a twin thing.