Wheelchair basketball event raises awareness of the sport, life as a paraplegic athlete

Photo by Shawn Nowlin
Participants Eddie Wimbish, Brandon Rush, Cor’Rales Dupree and Richard Curtis, left to right, taking in the action on the court.
Photo by Shawn Nowlin
Paraplegic athlete Cor’Rales Dupree.

For the second straight year, members of the Salem community and beyond came together on the campus of Roanoke College to participate in the annual “No Dunking Allowed” event.

It didn’t matter how many points were scored or how many air balls were shot on July 28; it was all about raising public awareness of the sport of wheelchair basketball and funds to acquire some new basketball chairs.

The Roanoke Stars, a local wheelchair basketball team, was founded by Salem resident Jacob Tyree in 2014.

Many people, including Blue Ridge Independent Living Center (BRILC) and Disability Rights & Resource Center (DRRC), contributed to the event’s overall success by securing the venue, organizing the supporting groups and volunteers and providing a schedule for all the participants.

“I love ‘No Dunking Allowed’ because it gives the public a chance to experience wheelchair basketball and open their eyes to what our sport looks like. It also provides us with an opportunity to educate people with and without disabilities to never give up on their dreams, Tyree said. “We aren’t disabled; we are just differently abled.”

The event was open to the public and attracted over 150 people. Planning such an occasion requires a lot of communication and patience, according to Kellen Smith.

“We started talking about planning this event after last year’s event. We really did not kick into high gear until February,” Smith, co-director of Wheel Love, a support group for the differently abled, said. “I was delighted to see the young kids out just having a blast in the chairs. Their smiles were what we do these events for.”

Prior to participating in the July 28 event, Alex Davis said he had no idea of the commitment required to be a wheelchair athlete. “I asked a lot of questions and received a lot of thought-provoking feedback,” he said.

Throughout the event, Tom Vandever, founder of the Charlottesville Cardinals wheelchair basketball team, regularly encouraged his teammates and interacted with the kid participants.

“When people first see wheelchair basketball, all they see are the wheelchairs. After a short time, the wheelchairs sort of disappear and the audience sees the athletes and the game they are already familiar with. They go home remembering the athletes, not the wheelchairs,” Vandever said. “That is the magic of this event. This program needs community support to be successful – gym time is critical for practices, developing players and games. Financial support is also critical.”

After spending several hours playing wheelchair basketball, Karen White says she now has a new perspective that she didn’t have just three weeks ago.

“I didn’t want to come off as ignorant, but I didn’t really know much about wheelchair basketball when I got to Roanoke College. Everyone was super nice though. Some things you can’t quite grasp until you give it a try,” White said. “If this event was any indication in the overall community interest in wheelchair basketball, something tells me that there will be more opportunities like this in the future.”

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