Kids interested in playing wheelchair basketball can join the Junior Wheelchair Cavaliers for an “open gym” on Sunday, Sept. 30, from 1-4 p.m.
The event is open to school-age boys and girls with an “irreversible lower extremity limitation” and will take place at the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland, 6114 Broadway Ave.
Mike Urban, manager of sports services for the Achievement Centers for Children, has been the only head coach of the team, which is now in its third season.
“The team was created to be a feeder for the adult wheelchair Cavaliers team, but we’ve also had kids go on to each college scholarships and play for other adult teams,” he said.
The team provides players with uniforms and sports wheelchairs to use during the season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers sponsor the team and invites their Junior Wheelchair counterparts to play at halftime of one of their NBA games once a year.
“That’s a real thrill for these kids,” Urban said. “For three or four minutes, they are trying to score and get that cheer from the crowd.”
He said the Cavs game usually leads to more interest in players wanting to join the team.
“We also get a lot of calls from people who want to volunteer or donate money,” Urban said.
The Cavs also help the team defray the cost of their travels to visit their 17 Midwest Conference foes in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Tennessee.
The Junior Wheelchair Cavaliers at the only Ohio team in the conference, and they play their home games at some of their players’ high schools.
“Last year, we played at Oak Harbor, North Olmsted and St. Thomas Aquinas,” Urban said. “We have the pep band, the concessions, the announcer and the whole game experience.”
The team’s season runs from the beginning of October to the end of March.
The Jr. Wheelchair Cavaliers play on a regulation court with a regular basketball and 10-foot-high basket.
They practice three times a week at the Boys and Girls Clubs.
“Sometimes we cut back on that schedule if we’ve just gotten back from a tournament,” Urban said. “On one of those weekends, we’ll drive in on Saturday morning, play a couple of games. Then we’ll stay at the hotel and wake up Sunday morning to play a couple more games before we come home.”
Urban said he’s been very impressed with the players he has encountered since he started coaching wheelchair basketball.
“I was amazed at how competitive the game can be, even in a wheelchair, what fantastic athletes they are and the speed of the game. The game is coordinated, fast and yet controlled,” he said.
The team has established a relationship with the U.S. Paralympic team and will participate in a clinic in December with coach Jim Glatch at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, according to Urban.
Invacare has also helped the team by providing used wheelchairs that they refurbish and lease them to the team with no charge to the players.
Urban hopes some kids will arrive on Sunday and experience wheelchair basketball for the first time.
“If you have a friend or neighbor who would like to play, have them see what we’re about and shoot some hoops.”
For more information on the Junior Wheelchair Cavaliers or this Sunday’s open house, call Mike Urban at (440) 238-6200 ext. 245.