Instead of squeaking shoes, there were a lot of ear-piercing metal collisions Saturday at the Holcom Park Recreation Center basketball court.
“You’ll hear a lot of clanging and banging and crashing of chairs,” warned Jarvis Stirn, member of the Kansas Wheelhawks, which hosted a wheelchair basketball tournament this weekend in Lawrence.
Teams from all over the region hit the court in the growing sport that’s part basketball and part demolition derby.
It’s the opportunity to feed that competitive streak that keeps the sport growing among athletes who were either born with a disability or who developed one later in life.
A former basketball player, Stirn had to come around to the idea of wheelchair basketball following an injury in 1995 that paralyzed him from the waist down.
“I played regular ball, and I’m not all that excited about it,” Stirn said about when he was approached about getting into the sport.
A few times up and down the court, and he was hooked.
“It’s still that rush of being up and down the court,” he said.
Wheelchair basketball is basically like it sounds; players compete on the court with many of the similar rules of basketball. Players, however, are rated on a scale of 1 to 3 based on their level of disability. For instance, those with more severe injuries receive a lower number, and those with less-severe disabilities have a higher number. The points for the five players on one team who can be on the court at one time can’t exceed 12.
The wheelchairs — which cost around $3,000 — are specially designed for the sport, with tires that look like they’ve been smashed inward. A few times a game, you can expect to see players crashing to the floor in a nosedive as the wheelchairs flip forward. Instead of gasps from the dedicated audience, it’s no big deal and players often get up quickly.
The Wheelhawks include about a dozen players from the Topeka and Lawrence area, and the team — which is currently ranked 17th in the nation by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association — compete in about one tournament a month during the winter season. This weekend’s tournament will continue Sunday at Holcom, 2700 W. 27th St., including an 11:30 a.m. exhibition game, where spectators will have a chance to try out the sport.
During the Wheelhawks 63-58 win against the Lincoln, Neb.-based Madonna Magic on Saturday, a fast break toward the end of the game displayed both the competitive nature of the sport and how tight-knit the Wheelhawks are.
Stirn raced down the court and flipped the ball to teammate Clayton Peters, who banked in an easy layup. Stirn, meanwhile, took one of those violent crashes to the floor. Peters immediately skirted over to Stirn, who grabbed the legs on Peters’ chair and boosted himself up so fast that it was clear they’ve done this many times before.
“It’s your team,” said Peters, whose second-half three-point shooting helped the Wheelhawks claw back. “You develop a close bond.”ￇ