Athletes with disabilities compete in wheelchair sports

February 28, 2010 7:33:40 AM PST
Wheelchair basketball is not only the oldest sport for people with physical disabilities, it's also the largest.

Men and women from ages 8 years and up play wheelchair basketball. There are more than 200 wheelchair basketball teams throughout the United States and Canada.

Wheelchair basketball has given many players an opportunity to show their athletic skills in completive situations.

Twenty-seven-year-old Jaime Baltazar is practicing with some local players at Chicago State University. His life changed 10 years ago.

"I was in senior year of high school and I actually was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I lived in a pretty precarious neighborhood and I got shot," Jaime said. "I got shot, and basically, I have a spinal cord injury and the bullet is still in my back. That' s the reason why I can't walk."

After becoming disabled, Jaime thought his life was over, until he started playing wheelchair sports.

"I was always active. I played basketball, cross-country, track, football, so that was the most devastating part about it, because I really wanted to play sports. I never knew about wheelchair basketball or any other sport," said Jaime.

He currently plays for the University of Illinois wheelchair basketball team.

"I was always a good street ball player. I never really played it organized, and now that I have a really good coach at U of I, I understand the game a lot better, and it's more organized and it's more of a team sport; they utilize each other. It's a lot of talking, communication, leadership, so it encompasses a lot of the aspects that you have to put together to actually be successful as a team," Jaime said.

Wheelchair basketball rules are very similar to able-bodied basketball, though there are some specific issues, says former wheelchair basketball player and referee Larry Labiak.

"A chair is considered a part of the player for in bounds and out of bounds, so if any part of your chair touches the bounds area, the player is out of bounds," said Labiak. "Players cannot lift their rump or behind off the seat of the chair at anytime to gain or maintain possession of the ball. If they do, it's called a physical advantage foul."

Wheelchair sports gives children with physical disabilities a chance to be part of a team.

"It's so important for younger kids to see there elder peers and understand that they too can get a good education, and go to college, and have a chance to play sports in college," said Labiak. "It's not just role modeling that's good for people with disabilities, its just role modeling that's good for all of us."

Several years ago, Jaime tried out for the USA Paralympics wheelchair basketball team.

"They didn't want to change the face of the team too much so they didn't really want to cut a veteran guy for a younger guy who may not have the same experience, so they just keep a lot of their veterans, but from what I heard, they said that I should come back and try out again," said Jaime.

Jaime is majoring in recreation sports and tourism at University of Illinois in Champaign. For more information on wheelchair basketball, visit the Wheelchair Sports and Social Club web site (www.mdwssc.org) and the Disability Resource and Education Services UIUC web site (www.disability.uiuc.edu).


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