School district and Challenge Alaska team up for wheelchair basketball

ASD and Challenge Alaska team up for wheelchair basketball
Published: Nov. 27, 2022 at 10:56 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - From November to December, every Monday through Friday afternoon at Service High School, wheelchair athletes are going up and down the court playing wheelchair basketball.

Disabled or not, students in grades 6 through 12 can stop by the Service High School gym and participate in wheelchair basketball with the chairs provided by nonprofit Challenge Alaska. The program, put on by the Anchorage School District and Challenge Alaska, helps students get an opportunity they wouldn’t normally have.

“Kids with disabilities often don’t have the same opportunities that their able-bodied peers do, especially in the after school sports,” Therapeutic Recreation Coordinator for Challenge Alaska Jeff Dick said.

“Sports like wheelchair basketball and opportunities like this, it’s a chance for kids who would not otherwise be able to play basketball to come out and be a part of a team, play a really fun sport, and learn all of those things that go along with playing sports — just how to work together, how to communicate, how to win and how to behave when you win, how to lose — and how to use that as a life lesson, turn it around into ‘I’m going to set a goal to be better next time’ and ‘I’m going to be a better person as well as a better athlete’ and giving these opportunities and making sure that kids of all different ability levels have those opportunities is why this is so important.”

There are two coaches from ASD and one coach from Challenge Alaska who get in the chair and help the athletes learn how to play the game that has roughly the same rules as basketball. The sessions start with some practice: running drills to work chair mobility, dribbling and trying to get the ball in the hoop.

While everyone is working on their game and getting in shape, at the same time their are many other benefits to getting on the court.

“It’s really nice to have the social aspect, I enjoy talking to people and making new friends and stuff. But it’s really nice to have that social aspect and some people have similar experiences to you — or to me I guess — so it’s nice to kind of relate in that way.” said wheelchair athlete Anna Boltz.

Wheelchair basketball is also one of the few sports that doesn’t have to be adjusted that much from it’s traditional counterpart. The rules are basically the same, and Boltz says that is something that she really likes about the sport — that it doesn’t matter if you have a disability or not: if you are playing you are all doing the same motions.

“You will have so much fun you are not going to believe it,” Dick said. “The first time they show up, they are very hesitant, they are not sure if this is something they can do or have fun with. And of course we are all nervous about, am I going to be good at it? Am I going to be the worst one in the room? Are people going to be starting at me? Everyone is welcome here.”

There’s room on the court for everyone, from experienced players to brand new athletes.

“It doesn’t matter if your the worst person in the room, at one point everyone in here was the worst person in the room. So you’re probably not, but even if you are, this is the place to be. Because everyone in this room is gonna help lift you up so you can become better, you can becomes stronger. It really is about basketball but it’s also about making friends, connecting with other people, and being apart of a team and having fun,” said Dick.

Those interested in getting involved in wheelchair basketball can find more information by visiting the Challenge Alaska website.