Wheelchair basketball is as fast-paced and even more challenging than its counterpart, according to Lt. Col. Rose Deck, commander of Fort Stewart’s Warrior Transition Unit.
On Monday morning, WTU soldiers formed several wheelchair-basketball teams that challenged other Fort Stewart-Hunter units as they began a week of competitions that celebrate Marne Week — the 3rd Infantry Division’s 96th birthday. The day began with an early 4.2-mile run, then soldiers and units squared off for athletic and other types of competition.
“They’re just doing a scrimmage game right now, so it’s just three-on-three,” Deck said as she watched her soldiers roll up and down the court, mixing it up with a team from Hunter Army Airfield. “It’s not easy. You think, ‘How hard can this be?’ At the end of the game, though, I was soaking in sweat ... I think it shows what we as soldiers with injuries can do.”
Deck pointed to a soldier on the WTU team and said Spc. Kevin Meyers had had serious injuries. Nonetheless, she said Meyers has taken to wheelchair basketball with such enthusiasm, his coach has to ask him to be less aggressive.
“When I came here this morning, I wanted to stress the importance of safety during these games,” Deck said. “It’s not hard to turn a wheelchair over or fall backward. We don’t want anybody getting hurt.”
Winn Army Community Hospital public affairs officer Michelle Gordon explained the soldiers are restricted in the wheelchair as they would be if they couldn’t use of their legs. They’re strapped in at the waist and ankles.
“Some of the (WTU players) have lower back, knee or other injuries to their lower extremities,” Gordon said. “No one is actually confined to a wheelchair though ... The WTB has a wheelchair-basketball program, so they’re used to playing in wheelchairs.”
Most of the soldiers competing had little experience playing basketball in a wheelchair. It’s a sport that has its own rules, coach Buddy Karolev said. He said a player only has to dribble the ball two times, then he or she is allowed to roll his wheelchair two times, while holding the ball. The player can then shoot, pass or dribble again to move again.
Although the WTU team was all men, he said coed teams also play. The Hunter team included at least one woman.
“This battalion has a coed team, but I don’t have any females on my team right now,” Karolev said.
Karolev, a civilian whose day job is military adaptive-sports coordinator, said he used to coach military basketball when he was in the Marine Corps.
“My team (members) are all stationed here at the WTB,” Karolev said. “They practice twice a week for three hours at a time, so they’re pretty much ready to play. It’s excellent therapy ... We played the Jacksonville Jaguars (in wheelchair basketball) back in July.”
Karolev said his team won the first game, then he put in his second string to give the NFL pros a chance to win. He said the Jaguars will come to Fort Stewart in January for a rematch.