Manitoba wheelchair basketball team heads to nationals after 9-year hiatus
Team re-building after wheelchair basketball nearly disappeared as a Manitoba sport
For the first time in nine years, the Manitoba wheelchair basketball program is sending a team to nationals. The Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League National Championships take place Apr. 15-17 in Kamloops, BC.
"We're ready to make a comeback and prove we're still around," said 23 year-old athlete, Jenny Kowalson.
Kowalson joined the team two years ago. Prior to that she had limited experience with team sports.
"Playing soccer in junior high school, I was always left back in the field because I couldn't keep up running and playing—just the normal kid stuff," said Kowalson. "Being here I was actually part of a team, something I never had before."
Kowalson was born with Cerebral Palsy, but she shares the court with athletes of many abilities. Wheelchair basketball is an inclusive parasport, which means it is made up of able-bodied players and athletes with disabilities.
"Everyone has their role on the court," explained Samuel Unrau, president of Manitoba Wheelchair Sport Association. He is also part of the team headed to Kamloops.
"Someone who might have a lower functioning ability, they still have a role," said Unrau of those playing under the sport's point system. "They're not sidelined because you have to have that mix between high functioning and low functioning athletes."
Wheelchair basketball athletes are classified by Wheelchair Basketball Canada and assigned a point between 1.0 and 4.5. The total points on the court at one time cannot exceed 14, which means there must always be a mix of able-bodied and disabled players.
Nationals offers rare experience
Kamloops is an important stepping stone in re-establishing the sport in Manitoba, said head coach, Jarrett Yaworski.
"It will be a wealth of experience for our program," said Yaworski. "This is an opportunity for our junior athletes to get experience so they can compete for our province at the Canada Winter Games in 2019, and it's an opportunity for our adult athletes who aged out of junior provincial eligibility many years ago to come back and mentor."
With only one wheelchair basketball program in Manitoba, the trip to Kamloops offers a rare opportunity for Manitoba athletes to compete, and an important benchmark for athletes such as Kowalson.
"It's really important to me," said Kowalson. "I cannot picture my life without it now."
11 athletes from Manitoba are headed to Kamloops for nationals. Their http://gofundme.com/mtqqh8f6 page is raising money for the cost of travel.