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National Wheelchair Basketball Athletes Bring Sports Passion to NIH

By Anne Philips and Carlton Coleman

For only the second time in recent memory, the parking lot in front of Bldg. 1 was cleared to make way for street ball. The Maryland Ravens, a team of nationally ranked wheelchair athletes, played a vigorous game of basketball against a squad of enthusiastic NIH Police. Earnest but new to the game, the police soon showed themselves to be unprepared for the physical and cognitive demands of wheelchair propulsion and play. The exhibition game inaugurated NIH's annual observance of National Disability Awareness Month.

Carlton Coleman (l) of OEO and NIH Police Cpl. Roman "Chad" Henkins vie for control of jump ball, as tossed by R&W's Randy Schools.

On behalf of NIH, Stephen A. Ficca, director of the Office of Research Services, greeted the Ravens and opened the exhibition to a spirited crowd. The Ravens easily trounced the NIH squad 51 to 49, despite the police starting out with an unearned 40-point lead. While wheelchair basketball is similar to the running game, it is also characterized by its own unique style. The high-intensity sport reveals its own system of attack, possessing a unique dribbling rule to accommodate the movement of athletes in wheelchairs. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the game. A second game (see sidebar below), pitting the Ravens against another NIH squad, Double Helix, was held later in the Clinical Center.

For more than 25 years, the Ravens have made working with children with disabilities their primary off-the-court objective. Throughout the year, players are available for personal appearances: hospital visits, speaking engagements, school visits and other community service. The goal of these appearances is to use the players' role-model status as prominent members of the Maryland sports and disability communities. Through Combined Federal Campaign #3067, contributions to the Maryland Ravens, Inc., help promote personal development, citizenship and leadership among youth with disabilities.

On NIH's impromptu court, Maryland Ravens event coordinator Eddie Diggs (l) and Ravens Forward Sam Winston (c) accept a token of appreciation from John Miers of the disability awareness program planning committee.

The planning committee for the disability awareness program presented plaques of appreciation to the NIH Police, the Maryland Ravens and the Double Helix for helping make this a successful experience for the NIH community.

First-Person Account
Experiencing Wheelchair Basketball

By Dr. Derrick C. Tabor

The evening portion of the recent disability awareness program featured a wheelchair basketball game between the Maryland Ravens and the Double Helix, a coed, multiethnic, multi-generational group of employees from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Double Helix was formed in 1998 in response to a challenge to play the Ravens as part of that year's disability awareness activities.

The game this year was played on the half-court gym on the 14th floor of Bldg. 10. In contrast to the outcome of the 1998 game, where Double Helix failed to score a single point, this year the NIH'ers lost by only 3 points. The closeness of the game was due to an innovative scoring approach in which Helix was awarded 3 points for every basket scored and the Ravens were awarded only a single point for each basket. All players used wheelchairs in the game.

Despite Helix's advantage, the game was exciting for both the audience and participants. As is their forte, the Maryland Ravens displayed superb ball- handling abilities, deft passing, accurate shooting, and an impressive defensive game that literally kept Double Helix off balance. As captain of the home squad, I noted that in spite of the scoring advantage and the far superior play of the Ravens, we kept the game close through luck and the teamwork of Helix players Judit Camacho, John Matala and Liz Mullican, all of whom scored at least two or more baskets, which was amazing given that none of them had played wheelchair basketball before.

The Ravens beat both NIH squads — indoors and out.

Although the game was enjoyable, the highlight of the evening was wheeling back to Bldg 1. Once the game ended, Helix traveled in wheelchairs from the gym to the front of Bldg. 1 in order to return borrowed wheelchairs to the van. This unscheduled event provided another opportunity for our team to appreciate the challenge of using a wheelchair. The experience of traveling a different path — the difficulty of finding a wheelchair-friendly path that includes only downhill terrain was in itself illuminating. In that short trip, I learned how to rely on others in meeting the physical demands of continuously pushing and in accommodating my newly expanded personal space. I also experienced firsthand how to fit three wheelchairs and two adults in one of the small elevators in Bldg. 10. Most importantly, no one was left behind or had to exit the elevator. What creativity! What commitment! What community! Lastly, our team members had the revealing experience of how difficult it is to be in a wheelchair caravan, observed by strangers, and not wonder: Why are they staring? What are they thinking?

Through my experiences with the Maryland Ravens since 1998, I have been sensitized in unexpected ways to the some of the continual challenges faced by those who use wheelchairs. I have experienced, if for only a short time, being in a new community, a wheelchair community. In doing so, I have found a new respect and appreciation for the special abilities they must count on day in and day out.

Membership in Double Helix, a wheelchair basketball team, is open to all NIH employees. I encourage anyone with an interest to come out next year and participate in the experience of a lifetime. Who knows, you might get lucky and make a basket.

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