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Wheelchair Basketball: Students vs. Pros

Charles Stish, staff writer

For the past eight years, Charlottesville’s local National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) team, the Cardinals, have visited Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) once a semester. With them, they bring a small box trailer full of wheelchairs so PVCC students can play against them on the pavement of PVCC’s basketball court.

This was no different on the seventy-degree day of April 12, 2017. On the sunny day, four Cardinals went against over ten PVCC students in a game of wheelchair basketball.

Cardinal player Rush explaining basic rules of wheelchair basketball to PVCC students.  Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hannifan

Cardinal player Rush explaining basic rules of wheelchair basketball to PVCC students.
Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hannifan

Five minutes into the game, the outnumbered Cardinals were 2-0 on the students. No surprise, considering the Cardinals have ranked in the NWBA’s Sweet Sixteen list for the past thirteen years. Most PVCC players were still trying to figure out how to maneuver in the wheelchairs while performing the tasks that come with playing basketball. The PVCC students also had to abide by the NWBA’s rule of one dribble per two pushes.

Knowing the students would struggle at least in the beginning, the Cardinals went easy until most students could get more comfortable in their position. Even when figuring out how to play, the students were laughing and smiling as they tried to push themselves across the court, throw or pass the ball, and score goals.

Abbigail “Abbi” Traaseth, one of the students who played, said, “It was really disorienting at first. It wasn’t intuitive, but I figured it out quickly.”  When asked about how she felt going against the Cardinals, she joked “Oh, we didn’t stand a chance.”

Another student, Victoria Detwiler, said, “In the wheelchair, you lose about two, maybe two and half feet.” Noting how the loss of normal height perception made it hard for her to make a shot at the hoop. “It’s a lot of fun though,” she added

Photography by Charles Stish

Photography by Charles Stish

“It wasn’t as difficult physically as I thought it would be, but it was difficult mentally. It was like trying to carry an egg on a spoon,” said PVCC student Jeremy Greller.

Towards the end of the match, some of the students caught on to the techniques of the sport. This made them more formidable and confident. One such student was Cayla Phillips. Having played basketball for years, Cayla said she spent time before entering the match observing how the Cardinals moved about the court. “My goal was to get the wheelchair down,” said Phillips.

While students like Traaseth, Greller, and Cayla were pushing themselves across the court, other students and several faculty members watched and cheered on the match. The crowd members could dine on salty chicken, sweet tasting macaroni and cheese, and mustard-based potato salad catered by Wayside Chicken. PVCC provided coolers full of water and soft drinks to help people stave off the warm weather.

PVCC Students, Assistant Professor of Physical Education Steve McNerney (back), and Cardinal Tom Vandever (back) pose for a post-match photo.  Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hannifan

PVCC Students, Assistant Professor of Physical Education Steve McNerney (back), and Cardinal Tom Vandever (back) pose for a post-match photo.
Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hannifan

The student crowd members and players would sometimes exchange as one playing student would tire out and one from the crowd would take their place. Some students held out on the court for almost the entire event. Others only played for a few minutes before surrendering their position.

Among the crowd members were Assistant Professor of Physical Education Steve McNerney and Disability Services Counselor Susan Hannifan.

Both Hannifan and McNerney have worked to plan this event throughout the years. McNerney even requires his Sports Appreciation students to attend the event, but McNerney observed the event’s attraction and said, “It’s nice to see the event transgresses requirement.” Hannifan also has a personal connection with Cardinal Brandon Rush and has known him since he was 14.

According to both Hannifan and Rush, this bi-annual event began over a simple phone call and a request for the Cardinals to come and visit the college to demonstrate the sport.

After the match, Rush said, “It was real competitive. They figured out the secrets faster than students in previous semesters. But what’s important is that we were all out there happy and having fun.”

wheelchair basket ball stish 2

Rush’s fellow Cardinal, Tom Vandever, said, “We had some great athletes and competitors. It’s always fun and great to come and play here.”

The Cardinals are active community members, playing demo matches for schools, churches, and at different local events. They formed in 1980, and since their creation, the Cardinals have had a team diverse in gender, race, and age. In 1982, team members formed what would become the Independence Resource Center. Several Cardinal members still serve on the Board of Directors for the IRC. You can learn more about the Cardinals via their website: http://cardinalsbasketball.com/  The Cardinals also have a movie called  Roll With It, which can be viewed on their website

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Posted by on May 4 2017. Filed under Campus News, Collegiate News, Events, From the Forum, Local News, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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