Each spring, millions of Americans across the country are inundated with media coverage and water-cooler conversations about their predictions for the crowning of the year’s NCAA Basketball Champion. Basketball enthusiasts, and even those who are oblivious to the game leading up to March, are consumed with filling out tournament brackets, entering office pools, and making travel arrangements to see their favorite team(s) play.
Last week, right here in the city, I had the opportunity to watch, for the first time, competitive basketball played by men and women both young and seasoned. It was a very thrilling experience! Oh… I almost forgot to mention, they were all playing in wheelchairs. Yes… it was the 64th Annual National Wheelchair Basketball Association Championships drawing 85 teams and more than 1,000 athletes from all across the country. I was on assignment from Louisville Metro Parks’ Community Relations Division to take photos, and while I did, the mental pictures I captured left me totally amazed, as did my 12 year-old daughter who traveled with me out to HOOPS to watch the Junior Division games.
“I can’t believe these guys and girls can do all of that while sitting down in wheel chairs. It’s amazing!” said Spencer, my daughter.
I started the day out in the South Wing of the Kentucky Expo Center taking photos at the ceremonial celebrity wheelchair basketball game in which several media personalities and members of the mayor’s executive staff took to the court to play in wheelchairs alongside some Olympic and veteran wheelchair basketball athletes. Following those festivities, I moved over to watch some of the Championship and Division III games. Wow! It was just like watching basketball at any given park, school gym or recreation center. Players were blocking out on the boards, shooting three-point shots, dribbling the basketball down court, and blocking shots. While most of the rules were the same, some of them were a little different. For example, players get two pushes for every dribble down court, the players’ wheelchairs are also considered an extension of each their bodies, so fouls can be called for wheelchair contact.
What made the ‘game even more the same’ were the strategies and emotional displays of competitiveness during the time-outs, the smack-talking during and following the games, the expressions of exhilaration following good plays and victory as well as expressions of exasperation following bad calls, and defeat.
Later in the afternoon / early evening, I ventured out to HOOPS to watch some of the Junior Prep Division and Junior 10’ Division games. While there seemed to be less “smack-talking”, the games remained very competitive. Both Spencer and I gasped rather loudly when one of the players’ chair tumbled over awkwardly on a fast-break down court. The young man was totally okay, and we later could see that the tumble was less dramatic to those in the crowd than it was for Spencer and I. It was basketball!
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the level of competition, and the athletic ability of so many who have not allowed their disabilities to hinder their athletic possibilities. I was reminded of a quote by famed Major League Baseball coach Tommy Lasorda who said, “The difference between the possible and the impossible lies in a person’s determination.” Congrats to all of the determined basketball players who came to Louisville this year to compete in the National Wheelchair Basketball Championships.
by Walter R. Munday, Outreach Manager
Louisville Metro Parks