After five years of coming in last at the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Texas, the Missouri Tigers Wheelchair Basketball team placed fifth this year.
“This is the first time we haven’t finished last at the national tournament,” coach Ron Lykins said. “It’s the first time we’ve won a tournament game, actually. It was a big weekend for us. Our program has only been around for six years, so we don’t have the histories that some of these other schools have.”
To snag the fifth place spot, the team defeated Southwest Minnesota State’s team in overtime. This came after MU’s team lost to the University of Alabama earlier in the tournament.
“The guys hung in there — we had a 10-point lead early in the second period, but then they came back and tied it,” Lykins said. “Then we went into overtime and won. It was good for us — a great win for us. It was a very nice way to end the year.”
The team ended the season with a record of 18-12. This is the team’s highest winning percentage ever, Lykins said. It marks the second time the team has had a record of over .500.
Members of the team gathered at MU’s Student Recreation Complex on Saturday for the 2011 Wheelchair Relay, sponsored by the School of Health Professions, the Office of Disability Services and others. For the event, people were invited to try out the wheelchairs doing what Lykins called basic tasks, such as racing and shooting baskets.
Freshman Colin Cutter said he is happy to see other people try out something that is part of his everyday life.
“I think most of us are pretty much comfortable with our situations in life,” Cutter said. “It doesn’t offend me that someone would want to try out a wheelchair. Using a chair is part of who we are.”
Not all team members use a wheelchair, though. Take sophomore Carter Arey, for instance — off the court, he uses a prosthetic leg, but for competition, he only uses a chair.
“With wheelchairs, it’s a lot harder to get into different areas on the court,” Arey said. “It becomes a lot more of a physical sport then. I didn’t expect it to be so intense.”
Still, he — like the attendees of Saturday’s event — are aware of the struggles people who use wheelchairs undergo.
“It’s a blessing to be able to get out of my chair at the end of the day,” Arey said. “I get to experience how much more difficult things are for them.”
Cutter said he has been playing wheelchair basketball for 15 years and was excited to play for MU. As a junior in high school, he knew he wanted to be involved with the team and contacted Lykins. He said he feels accepted in the MU community.
“This is one of the reasons I came to Mizzou,” Cutter said. “People around campus don’t look at you any differently.”
Wheelchair basketball players are not defined by their wheelchair or their disability, Cutter said.
“There is a stereotypical idea of us being depressed or upset about our situation,” Cutter said. “It isn’t true. We have so much fun.”