SPORTS: Fast growing sport affords wheelchair-bound athletes a strong competitive challenge
-The players hustle down the court in transition after a defensive rebound. The sounds of a hotly contested game are familiar: the screech of rubber against the wood floor, the barks from teammates for passes or strategic repositioning. This is typical basketball, but the athletes who are playing it on this day in Henderson are extraordinary.
The Silver Springs Recreation Center hosted the National Wheelchair Basketball Association March Classic March 8-9, featuring six teams from across the western United States.
“Before I (began playing) this, I was a miserable person,” said Vern Burgess who plays for the (Ogden) Utah Wheelin’ Wildcats. “(Wheelchair basketball) has changed my life. It truly has. It’s done that for a lot of us.”
Players have lost the use of their legs through disease or injury at some stage of the lives. Some are amputees, others have lower limbs in varying degrees of atrophy. But on the court they fly, reach, struggle, curse and pump their fists when a ball travels from a shooter’s hands and settles into the hoop more than six vertical feet away.
And the baskets come with impressive regularity, given the role leg muscles generally play in the mechanics of shooting basketball. Anyone who does the difficulty should try heaving a ball at the regulation height basket with use of one’s lower body. But these players have adapted to their limitations to the extent that the game they play has been transformed into a different animal, a contest that is fast, thrilling, frustrating and, at its best, elegant.
The NWBA was established 66 years ago and now consists of more than 200 teams in the U.S. and Canada and is one 82 national organizations governed by the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation. More than 100,000 people are estimated to play the sport worldwide on an organized level.
The rules differ only slightly from the traditional game. The major difference is ‘traveling’, which occurs if a player does not dribble, pass or shoot after two touches of her his wheel.
We play for the brief moments of transcendence from those limitations, an exultation rarely found outside a sporting arena.
Confronting our physical limits are at the core of all sporting endeavors, from the elite athlete to the weekend warrior. It is inherently an exercise in frustration, struggle, fatigue and the constant slap of reality the we are limited. In speed, strength, fitness, skill, creativity.
We play for the brief moments of transcendence from those limitations, an exultation rarely found outside a sporting arena. And in this, the women and men on the court at Silver Springs are no different. They are not wheelchair-bound athletes. They are athletes. | iH