Wheelchair Basketball Teams Play for the Mayor’s Cup
On October 5-7th, 13 teams will converge on Manhattan to compete in the 2007 Mayor’s Cup Wheelchair Basketball Tournament. Teams from New York City, Connecticut, Dallas, Texas, and as far as Ghana will meet at Manhattan College and Horace Mann H.S. to compete for Division II and III titles.
For some teams, this event will kickoff the beginning of their season. “The Mayor’s Cup Wheelchair Basketball Tournament has quickly become one of the premier basketball tournaments in the nation,” said New York City Sports Commissioner Ken Podziba.
The Tournament started in 2001 with support from the Arde and Louis Bulova Fund, and is organized by the Office of New York City Sports Commission, part of the Office of the Mayor of New York.
In 2001, the New York City Sports Commission published a book, “Exercise Your Ability: The Ultimate Guide to Sports Recreation for People with Disabilities.” Commissioner Podziba credits Dick Traum, President of the Achilles Track Club, for helping getting the Tournament started and now it has become one of the biggest Wheelchair Basketball Tournaments in the Northeast.
Wheelchair athletes are a determined bunch. They train hours, learning the game, running plays, and learning to play together as a team. “They are tougher than most able bodied athletes,” said Commissioner Podziba.
The United Spinal Nets, a team sponsored by the New Jersey Nets will compete in this year’s Tournament. The team is coached by John Hamre, an able bodied man who has spent 10 years coaching disabled players. Hamre noted that wheelchair basketball is growing in the New York Metropolitan area.
One of the “go to” players on United Spinal Nets is Joe Mendez. Hamre said he has a good outside shot and has a good floor game. In 1980, Mendez, 53, was severely injured in a car accident. The doctors saved his life. And, according to Mendez, wheelchair basketball saved his soul. After the accident, Mendez learned he was paralyzed from the waist down. He admitted he felt sorry for himself for years, until he found a connection with wheelchair basketball. “It’s like a therapy, to be able to compete,” said Mendez. Mendez said the day he finished the NYC marathon was one of the greatest days in his life. Mendez spends time going to schools to talk about participating in sports with a disability.
In 1970, Jay Kennedy broke his back. He couldn’t walk again. He was a young man at 22 and he asked, “How could this happen to me?” He says he “moped around” for years until he bumped into the Connecticut Spokebenders, a wheelchair basketball team based near Hartford, Ct. Then his life changed for the better. Kennedy, now 59, played power forward for the Spokebenders for 25 years. Kennedy said he when started playing in 1977 his wheelchair weighed 50 pounds. 30 years later, the wheelchair now weighs 15-17 pounds and is designed specifically for basketball. It’s expensive, costing nearly $2,000, but it’s an investment that pays off.
Playing the game and meeting other players helped Kennedy “accept his disability.” Kennedy, 59, is married with 5 children, and is retired.#