Shooting from the hip Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks teach kids a whole new ball game
Apr 17 2003 12:00AM By Jeanne Wieland Staff Writer

By Michelle Van Drisse
Staff Writer

If you've ever been to a Bucks game, you know the anticipation that grows before the game is about to start as the thundering prelude begins to sound.

Whitnall Middle School students heard that same music and cheered on their own as two members of the Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks were introduced.

Melvin Juette and Eric Barber were the guests of honor who had an important message to share with the students.

They were both donning Bucks shirts and quickly introduced themselves before games between them, Steve Wilson, Hales Corners Elementary School physical education teacher and coach of the Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks, and Wilson's toddler son started against students and staff.

"We say we can't do things, but the reality of it is we can do anything," Wilson said.

Barber has been in a wheelchair all his life because he was born with scoliosis and has a 70 to 80 percent curvature of his spine. He had surgery when he was 3 years old and lost the use of his legs.

Barber said he tried playing softball, football and bowling, but none of those sports interested him as much as basketball.

"You may not always win, but it's the drive, the persistence you have to achieve your goal," Barber told the students.

A case of mistaken identity took away Juette's ability to walk after he was shot in the back when he was 16 years old.

Maintaining a positive attitude, Juette said being in a wheelchair has opened up a whole new avenue for him.

He gave kudos to his fellow teammate Barber who beat Michael Jordan in a game of wheelchair basketball.

"Eric kicked his butt," Juette said, which was followed by student applause.

The Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks played two teams each comprised of seventh- and eighth-graders, followed by a scrimmage against a team of teachers.

Before the games Wilson gave some encouraging words to the students.

"There may be some missed shots, but make sure you never give up," he said.

And they didn't.

The Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks scored more than double all five teams they took on. The overall final score was 71-31.

Juette said he, Barber and Wilson are going to try to visit as many schools as their schedules allow.

"We just want to show kids that this is a different sport and we have fun doing it," Juette said.

Whitnall Middle School was the fourth school they have visited so far this year.

"I love coming out to talk to the kids," Barber said. "It breaks down some of the myths and barriers about people with disabilities."

Students were coming up to Barber and Juette for autographs and handshakes after the assembly.

Michael Dean, a seventh-grader, said they're the best wheelchair basketball team he has ever seen.

Julie Voelkel, a seventh-grader, got an opportunity to play in one of Friday's games.

"It was hard because you really couldn't stop and you couldn't go as fast as you wanted," she said.

Scott Graziano, a seventh-grader, said he used to think people in wheelchairs were a little different, but Friday's assembly changed his thoughts after he learned Barber and Juette were like most adults and had jobs and graduated from college.

Sarah Zawadiwsky, a seventh-grader, said the games were a lot of fun to watch.

"I think it showed a lot of kids determination and to never give up," she said.



team members on the Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks


year the team was founded by the Milwaukee Bucks, Froedtert Hospital, Roundy's and Fort Atkinson Hospital


Division 1 national champions


team record for the 2002-03 season

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CNI Photo by Scott Anderson

Whitnall Middle School eighth-grader Choua Cha puts up a shot against pressure from a defender. Groups of students played against members of the Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks on Friday to share in the experience of wheelchair basketball.

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Eric Barber, a member of the Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks basketball team, visited Whitnall Middle School Friday.

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Whitnall Middle School sixth-graders Baba Fajembola (left) and Ashley Nechy (right) cheer on their classmates as they go up against members of the Milwaukee Wheelchair Bucks.


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