Community effort assists wheelchair basketball team

Jerry Tyree, Jacob’s father and member of the winning team.

Over 70 competitors participated in a Wheelchair Basketball Tournament inside the Bast Center on the campus of Roanoke College on Saturday, January 27. Designed to be a fundraiser for the Roanoke Stars Wheelchair Basketball Team, the event also helped raise awareness about people with disabilities and their involvement in team sports.

Only two rules were required for participation: a good attitude and a team fee of $50.

Members of the Roanoke College Volleyball Team competed against Threat Level Midnight – consisting of Jerry Tyree, Cooper Tyree, Colin Loudy and Mike Esposito – for the championship game. Few were surprised to see Threat Level Midnight win the contest.

Brandon Rush served as emcee for the event. “The most challenging thing was announcing some of the creative team names,” he said. “Everyone involved said they had a great time. Wheelchair Basketball is my favorite sport. I spend a lot of time playing and coaching it.”

Tournament organizer Jacob Tyree was pleased with the number of people who registered before the deadline. “The main goal was to raise enough money to purchase a new wheelchair,” he said. “We have more people interested in trying out wheelchair basketball than we have chairs to put them in at this point. People who want to participate in our sport understandably don’t have $2,000 just laying around.”

Jacob, a 2010 graduate of Glenvar High School, was diagnosed with a large tumor on his spine when he was nine. After a few unsuccessful surgeries, he elected to have his lower spinal cord removed, which included the tumor. He has been paralyzed from his middle torso down ever since but is 100 percent cancer free. The Salem native accepted a full scholarship to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, graduating in 2014 with a degree in Communications with a Concentration in Technology.

Roanoke College Sorority Chi Omega

“Making the best of what you are given is what defines who you are. We all have our own battles in life,” Jacob, currently a Computer Technician at Glenvar High, said. “Life will always give us challenges, and we can either face them head on accepting them as part of who we are, or we can complain about the struggle and feel bad about whatever is happening.”

Tom Vandever’s role in the tournament was to assist Jacob Tyree and Allen Champagne, founders of the Roanoke Stars Wheelchair Basketball Team. “I am the player-coach of the Charlottesville Cardinals wheelchair basketball team,” he said. “We are all very excited that a program is being recreated in the Salem area.”

Mary Schwartz, the Roanoke College Women’s Lacrosse coach, is also in charge of the school’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC). Her daughter Sarah asked her if Roanoke College could host a fundraiser for the Roanoke Stars a few months ago.

“She introduced the idea to the SAAC, and they were ready to lend a helping hand. Jacob and I went to local businesses to ask for different prizes for raffles, and to spread the word,” Sarah said. “We ended up with around $300 worth of prizes to give out at the event.”

Even though the Wheelchair Basketball Tournament is over, Jacob Tyree says people can still get involved or make a donation.

“We are currently looking for a permanent gym that we can host our weekly practices. As our team continues to expand, we hope we can reach out to our community for team sponsors,” he said. “We are a non-profit, so donations are tax deductible. People can visit the Roanoke Stars Wheelchair Basketball Facebook page or contact 540-580-0092 for more information.”

Event organizer Jacob Tyree