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Vertical leap not required to roll with with wheelchair basketball players

Vertical leap not required to roll with with wheelchair basketball players
Press photo by John Burbridge
Collin Hillis, left, and Aaron Sage, right, both attempt to pry the ball away from Luke Fielder, center, during a wheelchair basketball session at the Charles City Family YMCA.

By John Burbridge

CHARLES CITY — Wheelchair basketball player Koda Beland has the zig-zag jitterbug movement of a Chris Paul and the open-court overdrive burst of acceleration of a Derrick Rose before both NBA stars had their own wheels damaged and were forced to reinvent their games after numerous knee injuries.

But any pending knee injuries are likely not going to slow down Beland’s game, which doesn’t bode well for any of his seated opponents.

During the final of three Wednesday night wheelchair basketball pick-up game sessions at the Charles City Family YMCA on March 5, Beland continually blazed unimpeded paths to the basket while leading fastbreaks, and served as a defensive road-block menace while cutting off and immobilizing pushes up the floor.

“I’ve been playing for about four years,” said Beland, who is a member of the Rolling Panthers wheelchair basketball varsity team — an age group above the Rolling Panthers’ 13U team, which qualified for the National Wheelchair Basketball National Tournament, to take place next weekend in Wichita, Kan.

The Rolling Panthers were founded in 2017, and are part of SportAbility of Iowa, which is based in Waterloo.

For the last several years, SportAbility of Iowa has provided the sport chairs for the annual series of sessions at the YMCA.

Other members of the Rolling Panthers took part in last Wednesday’s pick-up session. As required to be a member on the Panthers, you must have a permanent disability. But the sessions at the YMCA were open to able-bodied players who wanted to give the seated-form of hoops a spin.

Though some of the able-bodied players who participated were showing off their vertical leaps in an impromptu slam-dunk exhibition before the session began, once they were seated and strapped into their chairs, it took them a couple of times up and down the court before they could competently roll with the Panthers and the other more experienced wheelchair players.

A common mistake — or rather technique flaw— that novice wheelchair basketball players make is repeatedly re-gripping and re-pumping the chair’s handrims while propelling themselves forward.

It’s best to allow your hands to slide back along the handrims before pushing them forward again— otherwise, you’ll feel like you’re mired into doing never-ending bench-press reps.

Also, when retrieving loose balls it’s best to use your hand to trap them against one of the wheels and then roll them up to you. Reaching forward for loose balls makes you susceptible to inadvertent head-butts if another player is simultaneously reaching forward.

Charles City YMCA employee Spencer Odom, a legitimate wheelchair athlete himself, works with SportAbility of Iowa in arranging these annual wheelchair basketball sessions.

“We’re hoping to possibly purchase some wheelchairs so we can start a league here,” said Odom, who is also trying to drum up interested players for a Rolling Panthers adult team.

The would-be league at the YMCA would be open to legitimate wheelchair athletes as well as able-bodied players.

“I would be for everyone, but serving disabled players is our top priority,” Odom said.

Those interested in participating in a possible wheelchair basketball league at the YMCA should contact Odom or leave a message for him at the Y at 641-228-2254.