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April 29, 2009 > Wheelies with a bounce

Wheelies with a bounce

Students at Mattos Elementary School in Fremont were enthralled with the men in wheelchairs who had suffered debilitating injuries. Their primary focus was not on physical limitations, rather on their skill and agility on the basketball court. Speedy run and gun offense and defensive maneuvers were amazing and everyone wanted to participate. Demonstrations by members of the Golden State Road Warriors and their coach included ball handling strategies and even a bouncing wheelchair as a blocking technique.

The Friday (April 24) afternoon treat featured a two-on-two exhibition game, then a succession of competitions with teachers who were able to even score a few baskets (with some help from the Warriors), the school's girl's basketball team and selected students. Event Coordinator, Victor Backer introduced Coach Paul Jackson of the Golden State Road Warriors and Assistant Coach of the US Paralympic team who spoke about the history and rules of the sport and, in turn, introduced three wheelchair players who were on hand. Sponsored by the Golden State Warriors National Basketball Association, a group of 11 players on the Road Warriors travel throughout the country to compete and demonstrate their skills.

Those who demonstrate outstanding skills on the court or as coaches are selected for the US Paralympic Team to compete at an international level. Over 220 teams in the United States and Canada play using regulation NCAA rules and techniques at a variety of skill levels. "The only thing different is the chair," says Jackson. The Road Warriors, formed in 1976, play at the most advanced, Championship level. During their tenure, the team has included three world champions, won two national championships - 2000 and 2004. "We can't just go down the street [to compete] so we have to travel a lot." The season mimics the NCAA season which begins in November and ends in March. "We try to hold an opponent to under 40 points," says Jackson. "We average over 64 points in a game."

Jackson is not disabled but took a spin in a wheelchair to round out the foursome. His interest was sparked by a business associate and team founder Bill Duncan who was injured in a car accident and became fascinated with the game during rehabilitation. Different disabilities are given a specific point count of 1, 2 or 3; a team is restricted to five players with a maximum total point count of "12" on the court at any one time. This allows all levels of disability to play.

Road Warrior Team Captain and Fremont resident Chuck Gill has played with the Road Warriors for 18 seasons. Stricken with Spinal Meningitis in high school, Gill noted that although confined to a wheelchair, he is grateful. "This game has taken me all over the world to meet a lot of great people and accomplish a lot of goals that I have set for myself. I take this game very seriously and love it."

In the afternoon sun, Mattos students shared the excitement of vigorous competition with wheelchair athletes. But beyond an afternoon of fun, they developed up-close-and-personal contacts with team members who have overcome physical disabilities to excel in a sport that is as difficult and demanding as any they play on the schoolyard. These students now have an appreciation for wheelchair athletes but can now look past the chairs to the people in them.

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