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Patriots wheel circles around Commandos

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Mark Lazane
  • 1st SOW Public Affairs
Total humiliation. Total dominance.

Those are not necessarily the words I like to think about when they refer to what happens to my team on a basketball court. However, when I am forced to look back on the Commandos' performance Oct. 2, I don't know what other words could convey the sheer mutilation of pride administered by the Mobile Patriots, a professional wheelchair basketball team.

Twelve Hurlburt Commandos strapped in to wheelchairs and gave it their all against the Patriots at the Fort Walton Beach Community Center in observance of National Disability Awareness Month. 

A mass base-wide email was sent in mid-September looking for volunteers (victims?) to play against the Patriots. Being new to the base, I jumped at the chance to meet and socialize with other coworkers in a non-threatening environment.

I am certainly not unfamiliar with sitting in a chair on a basketball court. I spent the majority of my middle school years riding the bench before I gave up the sport entirely in favor of cross country and track and field. However, this particular game would be drastically different.

My first thought was to immediately assume I could dominant against much shorter opponents. As soon as I had volunteered my services, I realized I would actually have to be in a chair as well. At that point, the panic began.

Though I am not an amazing physical specimen by any means, I do consider myself to be in pretty good shape. After all, round is a shape, right? I even have some experience pushing wheelchairs--throughout college I was an orderly in a busy emergency room.

Nothing, however, could have prepared me for the total body whipping I endured trying to get up and down the court via wheelchair.

The game started off innocently enough; my shoes fit well, my physical training uniform was clean, my upper body was strapped snugly into a chair. I even earned a coveted spot in the starting five for the first time in my life. As soon as the whistle blew, however, my teammates and I became punishingly aware of just how long of a night we had in front of us.

It took all of about four seconds for the heavily favored Patriots, a Gulf Coast Division III National Wheelchair Basketball Team, to go the length of the floor and score their first basket, a simple lay-up. That shot was followed by many other Patriot lay-ups, usually one right after the other.

The Patriots opened the game with a crushing full court press, quickly opening a sizeable 25-point lead, at which time the opposing coach called off the press in an attempt to allow the Commandos a shot at the basket before the half. From there, it just got uglier. The halftime scoreboard resembled a really bad football game, Mobile patriots 46, Hurlburt Commandos 4.

I'm not saying that the Commandos were exceedingly slow on the court, but there is a reason the Patriots are from Mobile. They can really move! Simply getting beat down the court is one thing, but getting beat by someone who is swerving left and right and dribbling while sitting in a wheelchair? That just shouldn't be possible.

Ed Barnard, the free-wheeling Patriot trickster who repeatedly split the porous Commando defense for shots on goal, plays wheelchair basketball for the mental release.

"It's my sanctuary," he said. "When I am on the court, it just feels really good."
Barnard, who has been on the team for three years, said he was impressed with the Commandos' skill level.

"It's a pretty good performance for their first time," he commented, with a slight smile on his face. I think he was just being nice.

The sport of wheelchair basketball began after World War II as a recreational outlet for wounded combat veterans. Barnard is one of thousands of players nationwide who compete, making it the largest disability sport in America.

The rules are much like current NCAA basketball rules with a few necessary variations.
For instance, players may have no more than two pushes on the wheels before they must dribble. This sounds like a simple rule, but imagine the difficulty involved in having to push a wheelchair, dribble, and constantly be on the lookout for smothering defenders dead set on ripping the ball from your grasp.

Mobile's Jarrod Pomes, a college student studying to be a therapeutic recreational specialist, plays the game in part to not look hypocritical when he spends his career devising other outlets for people with disabilities. He provided some insight into some difficulties faced when beginning a wheelchair basketball career.

"The adjustment from an everyday chair into a basketball chair takes some getting used to," he said. "Also, playing on this team is a huge time commitment; between working full-time, going to school, and attending practices and games, it's tough to rearrange my schedule to play on the team."

Any difficulties playing the game by members of the Patriots pales in comparison to the level of difficulty the Commandos faced on this night.

For Maj. Lance Rosa-Miranda, 1st Special Operations Wing executive officer, the hardest part of the night came when his wheelchair tipped over, leaving him prone on the gym floor with the chair on top of him.

"I was a Division IAA football player at the Air Force Academy" Major Rosa-Miranda said. "I've never felt more helpless and powerless than I felt in that chair on the ground, unable to get up no matter how hard I tried."

After a while of struggling, Major Rosa-Miranda found himself surrounded by Patriots team members, who were able to help lift him off the floor.

"It was only for the strength and helping hands of these supposedly 'handicapped' young men that I was able to rise up off the floor," Major Rosa-Miranda said. "These men are not 'handicapped,' they are tremendous athletes and an inspiration to us all. It was an honor sharing the court with them tonight."

"It is absolutely amazing what these athletes are able to do on the court" 1st Special Operations Wing commander and game participant Col. Brad Webb said. "The agility, balance, and athleticism they possess should serve as an inspiration to us all that no matter what difficulties you may face in life, you can make the best of it. They are truly elite athletes."