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Wheelchair basketball receives enthusiastic welcome at the Lancerlot

Wheel Love and the Roanoke Stars Wheelchair Basketball team held their first annual “No Dunking Allowed” Wheelchair Basketball promotional event at the Lancerlot in Vinton on July 22.

It was inspirational to watch children and youth scrimmaging, but it was just plain exciting to watch the intensity of the Roanoke Stars and the Charlottesville Cardinals racing up and down the court with a good bit of clashing of metal.

Organizers Jacob Tyree, Allen Champagne, and Kellen Smith hope this will be the beginning of establishing a nationally competitive team in the Roanoke area. Tyree and Champagne are wheelchair athletes. Smith is a physical therapist with Carilion Clinic.  The three are affiliated with two new organizations that formed recently— the Wheel Love support group and the Roanoke Stars Wheelchair Basketball team.

Smith said they were very pleased that a crowd of over 200 attended the inaugural event with 15-20 wheelchair athletes participating, along with many able-bodied ones. The organizers, along with Lancerlot activities coordinator Kathleen Sink, say that attendance was much larger than expected in both the number of athletes and interested spectators. They were overwhelmed with the community support the event received.

They had more than one purpose with “No Dunking Allowed.” One was to bring awareness to both the disabled and those without disabilities about existing adaptive sports programs in the southwestern Virginia region. Another was to highlight the competitive nature of such sports. A third was to get disabled individuals interested in forming a nationally competitive wheelchair basketball team in the area.

The event was also an effort to raise funds for the wheelchair basketball program, as special basketball wheelchairs can be quite expensive. Smith says money was raised to benefit both groups. There was also just the desire to sponsor a “fun” event.

Other sponsors included Invacare medical equipment supplier and the Blue Ridge Independent Living Center.

One of the best ways to become acquainted with the challenges of living with a disability is to put yourself in the situation. That’s why organizers invited the public without disabilities to experience wheelchair basketball for themselves and discover it’s definitely not for the fainthearted.

Those who participated ranged in age from young children to the elderly.

Invacare loaned basketball wheelchairs for the event, as did the Charlottesville Cardinals Wheelchair Basketball team. The Cardinals team was established in 1980.

Ms. Wheelchair Virginia 2017 Allyson Hart also attended the event, “to educate, advocate and raise awareness of the abilities and needs of people with disabilities to influence attitudinal, architectural, and social change for all Virginians.” The state titleholder must use a wheelchair for 100 percent of daily mobility, be between the ages of 21 and 60, live in Virginia, and share a strong message about an issue relating to people with disabilities.

Hart is from the Roanoke area and was crowned on March 25. She will compete for the title of Ms. Wheelchair America in August. The Ms. Wheelchair program is based at the Wilson Workforce and Rehab Center in Fishersville, Virginia.

The Roanoke Stars Wheelchair team practices each week. They range in age from 16 to 60-plus. They would like to increase the size of their team and be able to compete on a national level.

The organizers selected the Lancerlot for the wheelchair basketball event for two reasons— the floor, which is not wood and thus safer, and their supportive attitude.

Wheelchair basketball has become very competitive and is growing in popularity internationally.

Wheelchair basketball is different than conventional basketball and is far more of a challenge because you must learn to manipulate the basketball while you are in a seated position the entire game. The chair is considered a part of the player.

Champagne says that many individuals do not realize that they are qualified to participate in wheelchair basketball—from those with spinal cord and brain injuries, to individuals with spina bifida, birth defects, cerebral palsy, surgeries, paralysis due to accidents, amputations and many other disabilities.

More information on the Wheel Love support group is available at www.wheellove.org. The website offers advice on a wide variety of topics including selecting wheelchairs, strengthening exercises, and grief counseling.

More information on the Roanoke Stars Wheelchair Basketball team is available from Tyree at 540-580-0092 or Champagne at 540-765-8500 or by email at wheelloveswva@gmail.com.

Wheel Love has another event in the works for August, and plan to repeat the Wheelchair Basketball scrimmage event next July.

“We are breaking down negative stereotypes placed on the disabled community by changing the way society sees people with disabilities,” said the organizers. “We are raising money to help mitigate the costs involved in starting a wheelchair basketball program. Basketball wheelchairs are very expensive averaging between $2,500 and $3,000. Our team is hoping to raise enough money to begin purchasing wheelchairs so that new players may have the opportunity to participate in the adaptive sport.”

 

 

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