By Carly Griffin
The Crisler Center came alive Saturday afternoon with the sounds of the 338th Army Band and the University of Michigan Cheer team for the 13th annual Army vs. Navy Wheelchair Basketball game.
Led by Grand Marshal, Captain Rick Vanden Heuvel, United States Navy and Director of Research Development, U-M College of Engineering, this year’s game featured Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadets, student veterans, Paralympians and experienced wheelchair basketball players.
The high energy game featured incredible play from both teams, cheered on by hundreds of friends, family, volunteers and the University community, including Regent Katherine White and Ross School of Business Dean, Scott DeRue.
Jeff Dennis, a member of the 2000 Paralympics Gold Medal winning Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Team, played for this year’s Army team and was excited by the youth turnout.
“Every year, I always see younger kids with disabilities come out. At one point [in my life], I was that kid,” said Dennis,” who experience his first wheelchair basketball game at age 11.
In addition to Dennis, the Army team was coached by Paul Bowes, head coach for the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball Team of the Invictus Games, an international adaptive sports competition for wounded, injured and sick service members and veterans.
“This event is about able-bodied people getting into the chair and getting a feel for the game,” said Bowes. “It’s a great way to raise awareness.”
During halftime at this year’s game, children from Mott Children’s Hospital took the court to show off their own skills.
As part of a hospital program, kids with physical challenges and disabilities participate in athletics, such as basketball.
As the kids took the court, the crowd watched as they maneuvered through a series of obstacles, taking their best shot at the basket when they reached the end.
Gerald Hoff, founder and organizer of the U-M wheelchair basketball game, was thrilled the Children from Motts were able to be part of the game.
“Wheelchair basketball is new to the kids,” said Hoff, “but for them, just to be able to come out here amongst all these veterans, it means everything.”
After a hard fought game by both teams – demonstrating exceptional teamwork and sportsmanship, Army pulled off a close win, 40-34. The game, which had many great moments, was one part of a larger message.
“This event is about disability awareness on our campus and in our community,” said Hoff. “We have a number of volunteers here – even student volunteer groups that take care of other students; that’s what’s really special to me.”
What started as a passionate idea 13 years ago has expanded both in size and support since then. But more importantly, the event has brought together a community, and raised awareness for those with disabilities and veterans.