Wheelchair Basketball Offers Hope and Plenty of Competition
Coach John Hamre, 40, of the New York Nets has his players doing basketball drills during their once a week practice. The players practice their dribbling, shooting, and rebounding. Players move up and down the court. This happens in local gyms across the country on any given night. What’s remarkable about Hamre’s group is that these players play
basketball in a wheelchair. Players are physically disabled, some due to a genetic defect, or permanently dislocated hips or feet. Others are paralyzed from accidents.
Whatever the reason, these players learn, over time, to accept their disability, and then gain greater self-esteem and inner strength practicing and playing competitively against other wheelchair-bound players.
Wheelchair basketball has arrived. Welcome to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA), featuring a logo just like the famed NBA logo, and hundreds of teams. The NWBA has its own website with team records and upcoming tournament dates.
Hamre, President of the non-profit Wheelchair Sports Federation, has been a volunteer coach and advisor for ten years in the NYC metro area. He coaches youngsters from 17 to mature adults up to age 60. He also coaches Wheelchair tennis, football, and softball when the weather warms up. He is the coach for the Division 3 New York Nets, a co-ed team with players from 19 to 54. He is the assistant coach to the Bulova Nets, in the Championship Division, a men’s team.
The important thing is a person who may feel isolated and down has an outlet to a world that opens many doors.
This was the case for Jose Mendez, who as a young adult was severely injured in car crash. Mendez survived but found out he was paralyzed from below the waist. Confined to a wheelchair, he felt lost and alone. Then he found wheelchair basketball. He tried it out and has been playing for 20 years. “My life was worth something again,” Mendez said. He found fellowship and an activity that changed his life.
Hamre, like all coaches, has a whistle that he uses in practice. He gets people to find their inner athlete and soon, with a customized sports wheelchair, the player is pushing himself down the court, looking for the open man.
There are challenges. Players have to learn the sport, including the basics: how to push the wheelchair while bouncing a ball, how to take a shot from a sitting position, how to grab a rebound when the ball bounces away following an errant shot, and how to set picks so a player can get open for a shot. With Hamre instruction and, if he stays with it, the newcomer quickly becomes a veteran player.
To coach wheelchair basketball, Hamre noted that you need good listening skills, patience, and good communication skills, skills he has honed over the years coaching and teaching the sport. Winning a close, tense game is the highlight for coach Hamre. “Seeing everyone come together, [to] work as one to accomplish a goal.” That’s the moment where all the hard work pays off.
Rachelle Grossman has a daughter, Emily Seelenfreund, 18, who started playing wheelchair basketball as an 11 year-old Junior. Now, she plays for the University of Alabama Disabled Crimson Tide team in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Seelenfreund’s mother says her daughter was recruited by both Alabama and the University of Illinois, but chose the smaller campus.
Grossman says her daughter, who contracted Osteoporosis Imperfecta, commonly called Brittle Bone disease, at birth, is wheelchair bound, but can do so much today. “She has friends all over the world,” Grossman said. She also states that Emily has learned to work hard, has gained physical fitness, has a sense of focus, and lives independently. She has traveled to Australia and, while there, went scuba diving.
Rachelle, like other moms and dads, got involved when her child took up the sport. Parents drive their children to practice, games, and weekend tournaments and lug 2 wheelchairs, one for the sport, and one for everyday use. A spare tire and air pump with needle are necessities.
Sports wheelchairs need to be customized for fit and are costly. The Challenger Athletic Fund gives grants to help defray the cost of buying one.
Grossman is the team manager and President of New Jersey Adaptive Sports Association, based in Hackensack for half the year. Grossman estimates that “half-a-dozen” volunteers help out. The Sports Association is holding a one-day tournament in Hackensack on February 7th, where teams of varying age groups will play all day. One team sponsored by her organization is going to the Nationals held in Denver on March 17-20th.
To find out more about wheelchair basketball contact John Hamre at 917-519-2622.#