Last Saturday, I heard it before I saw it. Kids laughing, basketballs ringing off hoops and the squeaking of what? Not Air Jordans, but rubber wheels on racing chairs. I had stepped into the excitement of Columbus Recreation and Parks “Try It” event for youth wheelchair basketball.
The fast action came courtesy of the Cincinnati Dragons, 2021 National Junior Varsity wheelchair champions. Skill drills and encouragement were in abundant supply from James Terpenning a Paralympic gold medalist. And the morphing of reluctant kids who had never tried wheelchair basketball into smiling blurs racing around the court was an absolute joy.
Mary Beth Moore, manager of the Columbus Recreation and Parks’ Therapeutic Recreation Program is a tireless advocate for adaptive sports and the power of play for youth regardless of physical or mental abilities. Mary Beth leads a team of dedicated coaches and counselors who help kids build confidence, sportsmanship and peer connections.
The Columbus Recreation and Parks Foundation works to support department programs, including expansion of the adaptive sports programs. Foundation leadership requested a grant from Ohio Beverage Association that we then combined with funding from the American Beverage Foundation for a Healthy America.
The $25,000 grant will help purchase more equipment such as wheelchairs, racing chairs and training rollers. It will also cover accessible transportation passes so families can get their children to practice and play time. Mary Beth and the Foundation are also working on adaptive ice hockey expenses like ice time and equipment.
And finally, after Covid related delays, the new equipment is arriving, and “Try It” day landed at last.
Parents and family members cheered their young athletes as they whizzed through agility drills and built up speed. Kids mugged for the camera and ate subs. One mom shared that the program helps her son feel like any other kid. No one asks about his wheelchair or treats him like he’s fragile.
As the day ends, I look over at her son. He is a sweaty smiling mess—just like any other boy on a summer day shooting hoops. And that is what any parent wants for their child. And what vibrant community recreation programs give to families.