- Associated Press - Saturday, February 1, 2014

GERMANTOWN HILL, Ill. (AP) - Savanna Klobnak pushed the basketball ahead, leaving behind any defenders before she dished the rock to an open teammate for an easy bucket.

The 14-year-old, who uses a wheelchair because of spina bifida, is used to doing things differently than her classmates at Germantown Hills Middle School, especially in P.E. class. On Thursday, though, she led the way and introduced them to a new sport, wheelchair basketball.

“It’s just like regular basketball. I mean, you’re obviously farther away from the other person,” she said. “It’s really the same except for the height (of seated players) and the space.”

The “just like regular basketball” game started out slowly, with students struggling to loft the basketball while seated in the extra wheelchairs provided during class and unsure how to use their hands to both dribble and propel the chairs forward.

But by the end of the 45-minute class, students were stealing passes, pushing fast breaks and cheering for their classmates from the sidelines.

Savanna and nine teammates, ages 7 to 16, play on the Peoria Wildcats wheelchair basketball team in a program run by the Heart of Illinois Special Recreation Association.

“We approach wheelchair basketball the same way any able-bodied coach would. We expect a lot from them,” said HISRA director Katie Van Cleve, who coaches the team with husband Mike. “We don’t use the word ‘can’t.’”

In fact, the similarities between wheelchair basketball and the traditional sport far outweigh the differences.

The Peoria Wildcats play in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, using NCAA rules on a full-sized court launching men’s basketballs through 10-foot-high rims.

One of the notable differences, Van Cleve explained to students, is there’s no rule against double dribble in wheelchair basketball and no player may touch the ground with his or her feet or a technical foul is called.

“I’m not exactly sure what that means, but there’s no dribbling at the same time,” Savanna said of double dribble rules.

Players strap into specialized chairs and use their hips to change direction and hands for about everything else: dribbling, starting, stopping and shooting, which took some getting used to for students who had never sat in a wheelchair before.

“Karson makes it look so easy because he can move around so much, but it’s much harder than it looks,” said Nathan Fischbach, a classmate of Savanna’s.

Karson Milsteadt, 19, a graduate of the Peoria Wildcats team, played with students to help demonstrate the intricacies of wheelchair basketball, like the pick-and-roll technique for picking up a rolling basketball using the wheel.

“This was an amazing day,” P.E. teacher Betsy Cunningham said. “I think they learned something and picked up some valuable lessons, and had fun while they were doing it.”

The new perspective wasn’t a lesson reserved for students Thursday. Not long after the final bell rang and students loaded onto buses, teachers strapped into the specialized wheelchairs for an impromptu game.


Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, https://bit.ly/1eHlzeb

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