It’s not every day that you get the opportunity to play a sport you’ve never tried before in an Olympic venue. So, we jumped at the chance to try our hand at wheelchair basketball in a corporate challenge put on by London charity Path to Success, at the Copper Box Arena in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Path to Success provides funding and grants to a wide range of charities, with the aim of providing education, helping the disabled, and assisting with overseas relief in the event of natural disasters. The charity elected to sponsor London Titans Wheelchair Basketball club this year, helping out with funding for new sports wheelchairs, court hire and transport costs, amongst other things.
The first part of the charity day saw each team receive some invaluable (and much needed!) coaching from members of the London Titans squad, getting to grips with the basic mechanics of the wheelchair, before throwing a bouncing ball into the mix to test us even further. Naturally, many of the first timers (myself included) were trying to hit long-range baskets before mastering the basics.
It’s fair to say the PHA team were handed the short straw, having to face the University of East London in their first match, whose team was made up of regular wheelchair basketball players. A humbling start to the tournament, to say the least. After a break for lunch, the matches continued and we improved quickly as the day progressed. One win, one draw (with the eventual winners) and a narrow loss followed.
Despite being billed a ‘non-contact’ sport, wheelchair basketball is anything but. Tactical blocks and clever positioning are key to a team’s success, in both defence and attack. The game is close in nature to that of basketball, in that it uses a standard-sized basketball court and 10-foot hoop. The concept of “travelling” in wheelchair basketball manifests itself when a player pushes their wheels more than twice after either catching or dribbling with the ball.
Another distinct feature is the classification system – somewhat analogous to the handicap system in golf, which enables a fair level of competition on court. Players are ranked by points, based on functional mobility. An athlete with no impairments is rated a 5.0, with 1.0 given to players deemed to have the highest degree of disability, such as a paraplegic with an injury below the chest.
The day was a huge success, with thousands of pounds raised for a great cause. It’s charity days like this one where participation in disabled sport can be opened out to a wider audience, helping to raise its profile. Don’t just take our word for it though, current Titans player Christy Gregan told PHA:
“Wheelchair basketball has enabled me to travel the world, meet some of my best friends and do things I never thought I could do. London Titans is the club that taught me everything I know and funding from days like this enables young kids to get sent to tournaments or even gets them their first chair.
“Getting your first chair makes you feel like have a new set of legs, as a youngster you feel like you can do things you’ve never done before. Days like these that fund those feelings are vital.”
Why not have a go yourself? Just don’t expect to be able to use your arms the next day…