Five-on-five basketball, one ball, two hoops and end-to-end action. What sets this basketball game apart is the players are all doing it from the seat of their wheelchair.
The Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, Therapeutic Recreation, hosted its final wheelchair basketball event of the year Saturday at Franklin Park Indoor Adventure Center.
Children with orthopedic disabilities came from around central Ohio each Thursday since the first week of December 2010 to compete in the 4 Foot Hoops Wheelchair Basketball League & Tourny.
With six teams, including a team of volunteers from Ohio State’s Air Force ROTC program, recreation leader Luke Edelbrock sees the program as an opportunity for those with physical disabilities to be part of a team.
“It’s just a nice, special day where everybody gets together and has a lot of fun,” Edelbrock said. “It promotes inclusion because there’s a lot of kids who are wheelchair users and there’s a lot of people who come who are friends.”
One of these friends is teacher Karen Harris from Independence High School in southeastern Columbus, who works with many of the participants on a daily basis. Harris, a teacher of 28 years, said these children learn valuable life lessons through the program.
“It’s a big source of socialization,” Harris said. “You have to have social skills if you want to interact in the world. It’s a practical life skill for them.”
Harris said fun can quickly turn into competition.
“They get a chance to see their friends and very rarely can they get together like this in a social setting for a common purpose, and the challenge, oh my God, they are so competitive,” Harris said.
Marjorie Rogers, a participant in the games diagnosed with spina bifida, echoed Harris’ sentiments.
“It can be competitive, but everybody has fun too,” Rogers, 17, said.
Spina bifida is a birth defect that occurs when the spine of a baby fails to close during the first few months of pregnancy, according to the Spina Bifida Association’s website.
It is because of this fun and competition that 18-year-old Darius Taylor, also diagnosed with spina bifida, attends the games.
“There’s a lot of people who have disabilities and it’s great for them to come here and compete and have fun at the same time,” Taylor said.
The games are officiated loosely, but scores are kept as teams converge on 4-foot hoops. There are about 10 people per team, but rosters are not official. When opponents are needed, people without physical disabilities participate alongside those with disabilities.
Members of OSU’s Air Force ROTC program helped out Saturday, adding another team to the tournament. They have been helping out at the games since the start of Winter Quarter.
Mike Siemer, a first-year in mechanical engineering in the ROTC, was a first-time participant in the games.
“I don’t think most of the participants can normally do this kind of stuff, so I think they really enjoy being part of a team,” Siemer said.
Air Force ROTC community relations coordinator Tim Stanfill said the program is all about making it fun for the participants.
“It’s definitely enjoyable for them to play with other people and the people they’re with every single week and meet new friends. They can’t do this all on their own,” Stanfill said. “Whether it’s helping them out refereeing or providing another opponent, the idea is to provide some fun for the kids.”
The ROTC are not the only ones volunteering at the games. Edelbrock estimates there were about 28 volunteers attending Saturday’s games with the majority coming from Friends of Therapeutic Recreation, the fundraising group for Therapeutic Recreation.
Friends of Therapeutic Recreation runs the concession stand during the all-day event with all proceeds benefitting the 4 Foot Hoops program and other after-school programs commonly held at Columbus Park of Roses in Whetstone Park. Tickets for door prizes and T-shirts are also sold to benefit the programs.
Friends of Therapeutic Recreation secretary Tina Frazier, whose son who was involved with Therapeutic Recreation for 12 years, still volunteers with the program today.
“My son has benefited from the camp and the wheelchair events and the after-school programs,” Frazier said. “It’s a way to give back and help support all the other kids who are still involved today.”
Frazier promotes the camp with the lessons her son learned there.
“He’s made friends and long-lasting relationships. He has been mentored by the staff and coaches,” Frazier said. “They gave him life skills by giving him responsibility and giving him praise when he succeeded.”
Whether it is for fun or competition, Edelbrock made one thing clear: Everyone gets a chance.
“This is recreation and I promote giving everybody an opportunity,” Edelbrock said. “Everybody needs to touch the ball. Everybody gets to play.”