This past weekend I went to my very first ever wheelchair basketball tournament. As soon as I stepped into the gym I was overwhelmed by the amount of people and the loud voices coming from both on and off the court.
I have never witnessed such an intense and at times, uncomfortable to watch, sporting event. These guys would push their chairs full speed ahead down the court and completely crash into his/her opponent under the basket. Not only that but, if the guys didn't crash into anyone, they stopped themselves by pushing their hands hard against both of their wheels. Now A) they were not wearing gloves meaning bare skin on rubber wheels moving at the speed of light and B) their hands were blackened by the rubber as well as burned, calloused, blistered and bleeding by the end of the game. Like I said earlier, way too intense for me.
The MU Tigers wheelchair basketball team has varying size of players. Some guys sat lower in their chairs and some of the guys were my height (5'3) sitting down. One guy on the Tigers team, after the game had finished, unstrapped himself from the wheelchair and stood up and walked off the court. At this, I felt like I had been cheated. He didn't need a wheelchair! Wait a minute
But after talking to one of the guys on the team I found out that you only have to be 10 percent disabled in order to play on the team. This means that you could be missing a few toes or have back/spine problems and still be able to play. Whew. Ok I feel better about it knowing he is at least somewhat qualified to be on the court.
Many of the other college teams had guys who looked like they would be 6'6 standing up and about 250 pounds. These guys would camp out under the basket and reach their monkey like arms into the air and just pop the ball up and in. Though Mizzou does have a few taller guys, for the most part, MU was one of the shortest teams at the tournament.
After coming home and decompressing from 5 intense games of wheelchair basketball, I keep thinking back and wondering how I never knew that this sport existed and was so popular until now. Mizzou's season is just shy of a month from being over but I will definitely be keeping in touch through their Facebook fan page and be on the sidelines for many more games next season.
Jessica Mustain is a student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism