Friday, November 2, 2012

Athletes, novices give wheelchair basketball a spin

Entertaining and illuminating as always, Cuyamaca College’s 15th Annual Wheelchair Basketball Game on Wednesday showcased some amazing finesse shooting in the midst of crashing and spinning chairs.
 The hour-long game, the highlight of the college’s celebration of National Disabilities Awareness month, consisted of mixed teams of wheelchair and able-bodied athletes and non-players. That’s so that the wheelchair league athletes, some of whom have been returning to play at the Cuyamaca College event for years, don’t completely dominate the scoreboard, said Mary Asher-Fitzpatrick, a learning disabilities specialist with Cuyamaca’s Disabled Students Program and Services (DSPS), and event coordinator.
 This year’s wheelchair athletes included members of the San Diego Hammers, a wheelchair basketball league team sponsored by the San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation, one of the agencies taking part in a resource fair that preceded the game. Also joining in the action were former players with the San Diego Xpress and SoCal Sol, two league teams from the past.
For the Cuyamaca College basketball team players, students, college administrators and local media who joined in the action, it was an eye-opener to how tough the sport is and gave them an appreciation of the wheelchair league players as true athletes.
“It’s really hard – without your legs, you’ve got to rely on your arms for everything, shooting and moving across the court,” said DeAndre Gitana Cretain, a point guard on the Cuyamaca College men’s basketball team. “It’s really great, though. I played last year and I was looking forward all day today to doing it again.”
The low-to-the-ground sports chairs are remarkably agile, allowing league players to spin and pivot off the wheels to get the best shooting angles. Priced between $2,000-$5,000, these lightweight chairs feature high-performance sports wheels that are tilted outward and supported by extra casters for stability. The higher-end chairs, made with titanium, weigh less than 20 pounds and can turn on a dime.
Maleesa Bottini, program manager for the Hammers, said most of the wheelchair athletes have suffered spinal cord injuries or have degenerative bone disorders. Recreational therapy like wheelchair basketball, boosts both the strength and psyche of the players, she said, giving them a sense of community. In addition to league play, the Hammers are very involved in exhibition play such as the one at Cuyamaca, to increase public awareness of the players’ capabilities.
Mark Zacovic, college president, said the exhibition game is part of the colleges’ outreach efforts and reflects its commitment to providing learning opportunities for everyone.
“DSPS does a superb job of helping students with disabilities pursue their education,” Zacovic said. “It’s in keeping with our community college mission to provide access to all.”
DSPS, along with the Cuyamaca College Associated Student Government; athletics; Club ABLED, a campus group supporting students with disabilities; the learning resource center and Cuyamaca instructor Jim Hannibal, sponsored this year’s event.