By Walter Munday
Several years ago I had the opportunity to attend my first wheelchair basketball
game. I was on assignment taking pictures during a weekend tournament, and my
son tagged along with me. Just as we strolled along between courts, two
competing players crashed with one player/chair toppling over to the floor.
As the whistle blew indicating a foul, an arm extending from a nearby teammate uprighting the player/wheelchair, and the game played on. It was at that moment
when I realized that this was simply basketball where players/teams who loved the
game, regardless of their circumstances, were competing playing a game they
loved. As we were leaving, I asked my son what he thought about wheelchair
basketball, and his simple teenager response was, “they can ball.”
Next month, the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament will once again be
here in Louisville. The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) and
Louisville Sports Commission are excited to host to the 70th anniversary of the
tournament, which is presented by ABC Medical. The tournament will run April 12-
15 in Louisville, Kentucky. The NWBT has been held in Louisville since 2013, and
overall will be making its 11th trip to Kentucky.
Wheelchair basketball first emerged around 1946 in the USA, developed by injured
servicemen from World War II. Most were former able-bodied players who wanted
to continue playing the game. The simple adaptations and slight rule variations for
people in wheelchairs allowed the sport to spread across the US, and eventually
This year, we are excited that the Louisville Spokes and Spires, a local
wheelchair basketball team, qualified for the tournament. Louisville Spokes and
Spires practices at Berrytown Recreation Center in eastern Jefferson County.
Berrytown Recreation Center is one of 14 Louisville Parks & Recreation Community
Centers. Louisville Spokes and Spires is a 14-member team playing in the NWBA’s
Division III. The players on the team range in age from 17 – 50(+). Herb Henry
and Jeremy Randall are two of the players. They were instrumental in forming the
new team three years ago.
They along with many of the current players were former members of Kentucky Hill on Wheels team, which won the Nationals in their Division in 2008. Members of Louisville Spokes and Spires team include: Herb Henry, BJ Bonmon, Charlie Coon, John Cirstofoli, Dustin Dove, Genc Hyseni, Micah Jackson, Jeremy Randall, Amy Verst, Luanne Thompson, Jimmy Green, Justin Harris, Andrew McCaffrey, and Beth Bryant. This will be their first time competing in the national tournament.
One of those competing is Genc Hyseni, a war survivor from Kosovo. Hyseni and
his family immigrated here when he was only two years old. Henry, a veteran
wheelchair basketball player, was a former University of Louisville football player.
His story has been well documented. In 1992, Henry was a victim of a shooting
when a fight broke out at University of Louisville’s Red Barn, a former industrial
building that beginning in 1969 was used as student event space. Henry was shot
twice paralyzing him.
Neither of these gentlemen let their circumstances dictate
their desire to compete, and are honored to be playing in this year’s tournament.
“I am very excited to have Louisville Spokes and Spires represent our City as we
host the NWBA National Championships. I’m looking forward to a great run with
lots of support from our local family and friends,” said Henry.
The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) is comprised of over 200
wheelchair basketball teams across twenty-two conferences.
The NWBA was founded in 1948, and today consists of eight divisions including: Division I, Division II, Division III, Women’s Division, Intercollegiate Men’s Division and Intercollegiate Women’s Division, as well as Junior 10’ (Varsity) and Junior Prep Divisions. This year, there are a total of 98 teams coming to the tournament. That includes four different divisions for adults and also three divisions for juniors. There will be about 16 teams in our division.
Locally, our eyes will be on the Louisville Spokes and Spires. A member of the team,
Jeremy Randall, said, “The team has worked hard to get to this point. It is certainly validation of our efforts but we also know the toughest road lays ahead.”