BOUNDLESS ABILITY Ability in Action Wheeling win...
Dec 19 2002 12:00AM By Beth Rankinen Staff Writer

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BOUNDLESS ABILITY
Ability in Action

Wheeling winners


Wheelchair basketball team displays athleticism, determination


By Beth Rankinen

Staff Writer

About 20 fifth- and sixth-grade students at Lincoln Elementary School learned what it was like to roll in someone else's wheelchair when they took on a collegiate wheelchair basketball team recently.

The students eagerly climbed in, but soon found out maneuvering a wheelchair and keeping track of a basketball takes skill, hard work and practice.

Action occasionally ground to a halt in the mini-game against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Wheelchair Basketball Team. Students stopped the chairs to try passing a basketball around the court and out of their opponents' hands.

"It was tougher to do jumps than I'm used to," said Samantha Howe, a student who managed to make a few baskets.

The game was arranged by physical education teacher Bill Wegehaupt, who asked the UW team to come share their talents and challenges with a group of Lincoln students and faculty. Some students from Cudahy Middle School also came, as did two Cudahy High School students who use wheelchairs to get around their school.

"I wanted to see what wheelchair basketball was like," said Annie Wasikowski, a junior at Cudahy High School, who uses a wheelchair because she has cerebral palsy. "It looks like fun. I might want to do it too."

Wegehaupt, a coach for the gold-medal winning United States wheelchair team in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia, had heard about the team's "Cornerstone for Success" program at a physical education conference and thought it would be a life lesson in diversity for his own students.

"I want them to be aware of others," Wegehaupt said. "For one brief moment, the playing field is level. What I would like students to remember is what great athletes these guys are."

Players share their abilities

An eager audience at the school found out the young UW men are really no different from anyone else.

Jeremy Lade, 22, Jeremy Campbell, 18, and Toukua, "Tooki" Thao, 23, demonstrated to the students and teachers just how physically demanding their sport is.

About 375 students filled the gym. To the near-deafening cheers of the students, the three played a shortened version of a full wheelchair basketball game with the fifth- and sixth-grade students. By turns, each of the players helped the students get around and handle the ball.

The team visits about 30 to 40 schools a year, in between practicing for games, working out and maintaining their grade point averages as part of NCAA guidelines, coach Tracy Chynoweth, said. The "Cornerstone for Success" program has been running for about 10 years.

"We do all kind of things," Chynoweth said. "We come out and play basketball, but they also talk about what it's like to have a disability."

Lade has been in a wheelchair since he was 9, when his family was in a car accident. Thao has polio and Campbell has spina bifida.

Lade, Campbell and Thao said they all plan to continue playing basketball after they graduate. Each of them has played for at least 12 years.

The three are part of the school's 12-member basketball team. Each player has limited mobility and a love of the sport, Chynoweth said.

"We want to leave you with this one thought," he said. "When many people look at a person in a wheelchair, they see just the chair. There is a person there with a heart and a mind."

Besides playing basketball, the three also coach at the Wheelchair Athletics and Recreation's outreach camp in the summer. At 13, Lade went there and enjoyed doing a number of sports, including basketball and rock climbing. Krysten Decker, 16, a junior at Cudahy High School, has been coached by the team members at the camp. She wanted to see her coaches in action.

"I think it's pretty cool how they do it," she said.

Students watch with curiosity

Before the playing started, the group answered as many questions as the students were willing to ask. Many students wanted to know if it hurt when they fall out of their chairs.

"It hurts us just the same as if you fall down," said Lade, who was nicknamed "Opie" in his youth for his red hair and his resemblance to the Andy Griffith Show character.

The students got to see the difference between the regular wheelchairs that cost about $2,000, and the ones used on the court. The chairs for basketball cost about $2,500, and have slanted wheels, allowing the user to gain speed.

The kids wondered why team members needed more than one chair to get around.

"It's like you having gym shoes and other shoes," he said. "Opie has to spend about $5,000 to get around."

Sports-minded kids found out that with a little creativity, the familiar rules of basketball can be adapted for wheelchair play. For instance, in wheelchair basketball the violation of traveling -- taking more than two steps while holding the ball -- is taking more than two pushes of the wheelchair while holding the ball. The height of a basket is the same as other league play.

They demonstrated their skill with their wheelchairs for the students. Lade built up speed and came to a sudden stop just inches in front of students sitting on the floor. Campbell showed students just how fast he could spin around.

When not on the court or in the classroom, the team members said they enjoy things like playing video games and hanging out with friends.

Taking on the teachers

After the game against the students, the team members played five minutes of no-holds-barred basketball against a group of staff members, including Principal Mike Carolan. With good humor, the team admitted giving teachers the harder time.

"It was tougher than I thought it would be," said special education teacher Shannon Grant.

Students, no matter the age, got wrapped up in the action on the court, cheering on the teachers in the hopes they would score. The Warhawks beat the Lincoln Lions teachers by a score of 2 to 14.

When the presentation was done, students were kept talking about what they had seen and heard.

"I like how the guy in the yellow wheelchair can stop," Sandra Chavarin, 6, said.

"I liked how the kids got to play in wheelchairs," Jenna Minko, 6, said.

Carolan was excited as the rest of the students and encouraged about what they told the students.

"It's great for students to see athletes in all different walks of life," he said. "It gives them an awareness of what a person can do."


"I want them to be aware of others. For one brief moment, the playing field is level. What I would like students to remember is what great athletes these guys they are."

Bill Wegehaupt

physical education teacher



AT A GLANCE

WHAT: University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Wheelchair Basketball Team, part of the university's wheelchair athletics and recreation department

TEAM NICKNAME: The Warhawks

PLAYERS: 12

ESTABLISHED: 1992

FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT: Tracy Chynoweth, coordinator of wheelchair athletics and recreation. Call (262) 472-1145, or e-mail chynoweth@uww.edu.



CNI Photos by Charles Auer


Jeremy Campbell of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Wheelchair Basketball Team (front right) tips off against a group of students at Lincoln Elementary School. The younger students got to try their hand at using a wheelchair, with a little advice and help from their opponents.



Lincoln School Principal Mike Carolan tries in vain to guard University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Wheelchair Basketball Team member Toukua Thao during a friendly match-up at the elementary school.



University of Wisconsin-Whitewater student Jeremy "Opie" Lade talks to students about wheelchair basketball and shares the story of how he was injured in an automobile accident as a child.



Sixth-grader Matt Roeshler, of Lincoln Elementary School, dribbles the ball during a game of wheelchair basketball that pitted Lincoln students against a collegiate wheelchair basketball team. In wheelchair basketball, players must dribble the ball every two pushes of the chair to avoid being called for traveling.