Carolina kids back on the court for wheelchair basketball

Some players traveled hours to practice

COVID-19 has put a lot of sports training and games at risk, but last night several organizations came together to help some talented basketball players get some practice time in.

Partners for Play along with Abilities Unlimited brought dozens of young people together for wheelchair basketball practice.

“These players don’t have any other teams (in Charlotte). In fact, the closest organization is in Greenville, South Carolina,” said Doug Youngblood, one of the organizers.

The coronavirus pandemic has made finding a practice facility difficult to find, but these young men and women found space thanks to Central Steele Creek Presbyterian Church.

17-year-old Anthony Brooks has been playing since he was 5 and travels three hours from South Carolina to play.

“My favorite part of playing is winning,” said Brooks with a big smile “Just pushing myself to win. I’m very competitive, so I don’t like to lose at all.”

World War II veterans originally developed the sport in 1945 as part of rehabilitation in the United States.

“The fact is that play is important for all kids socially, physically and mentally that they’d be able to get out to play with other kids,” Youngblood said. “Especially kids like this when they don’t have too many opportunities to even get out with other kids, much less be able to find other places to play.”

Since its inception, the sport has grown worldwide and was introduced at the Rome 1960 Paralympic Games. Today, the sport is practiced in nearly 100 countries.

“Being around people in chairs that have the same struggle as me is really what I like the most,” Brooks said. “Being accepted. Not an outcast.”

Many of those who came out play for Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets. The Hornets are part of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

The Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets has a rich history of success, on the court, in the classroom, and in the community.

They’ve won seven different national championships and grown from a single team to as many as six teams. They are the reigning champions of the Carolina Wheelchair Basketball Conference (DIII) and the Southeastern Conference Prep Division.

Brooks plays basketball at his home school in South Carolina, but he said there is a distinct difference.

“At school I still play basketball but it’s mostly with kids that are standing up,” he said. “But here, I can play with kids that are in wheelchairs and they’ve got the same struggles as me.”

Proud parents in the bleachers were cheering on their kids and a sense of pure joy was felt by everyone. It was evident by the nonstop smiling on the faces of everyone in the gym.

“Giving them the opportunity to come out here and practice, play and have fun,” Youngblood said. “We’re not looking to get anything other than just a good feeling.”

If you have an inspiring story to share, email Kevin Campbell, WSOC-TV/WAXN-TV/Telemundo Charlotte public affairs manager, at Kevin.Campbell@wsoctv.com.