RYAN FLYNN — General Assignment Reporter
It was an opportunity to be in someone else’s shoes, or in this case, wheels, according to Associate Professor Mary Jo Archambault. Her words rang true, as the Connecticut Spokebenders, one of the longest running competitive wheelchair basketball teams in America, gave some Southern students a chance to do just that.
The Spokebenders visited Southern this past Thursday night and competed against a team of Southern students and administration in the first annual wheelchair basketball exhibition game at SCSU.
“It’s always fun to do these kind of events, to kind of show people what we are all about,” Carlos Quiles, coach and captain of the CT Spokebenders team said. “You know, and kind of showcase our abilities and not focus on our disabilities.”
Quiles and his team of young men and women competed against some of Southern’s own top athletes as well as members of the Student Government Association, the Recreational Club and Greek Life.
March is disability awareness month, and this exhibition game was put together in an effort to promote just that. The Hospital for Special Care, along with the SCSU Recreation and Leisure Studies Department, the Office of Campus Recreation and the Rec Club all did their part to make the game possible. Student Life, as well, had a big role in the event, according to Archambault.
For the opening tip, the Southern team wheeled out a starting five that included SCSU basketball’s Trevon Hamlet, Lauren Allen and Greg Langston. They, along with many of the other SCSU players, found out early on that wheelchair basketball is much more difficult than it looks. The Spokebenders opened on a 14-0 run before Allen finally scored Southern’s first bucket.
Andrell Hoyte, a member of SCSU Student Government who played in the game, attested to just how hard it was.
“It was kind of rough. I wasn’t expecting it to be such a difficult task. I didn’t know it takes a lot more upper body strength to shoot from a wheelchair.”
Hoyte noted that the Spokebenders were constantly going on fast breaks and running the ball up and down the court, basically making the SCSU players run suicides on wheels.
“[The Spokebenders] were good,” Hoyte said. “You could tell they were like holding a little back but like I actually saw that they were running some plays. They were doing like pick and rolls and like triangle offense type things so they know what they’re doing out there.”
Mens basketball players Dominique Langston and Luke Houston patrolled the court as referees, watching as the Spokebenders opened up a 35-8 halftime lead. With more than a little bit of help from the scoreboard operator, Southern closed the gap late but in the end were still no match for the Spokebenders, who eventually won 75-62.
Willie Epps, star receiver for the Owls football team, helped organize and host the event.
“It was a stressful process, you know, trying to get everything situated and get participants and stuff like that,” Epps said, “but overall this is probably one of the greatest things I ever did in my life, putting together one of these type of events. And I had a really good time.”
During pregame and at the half, the crowd was treated to performances by the Steppin’ Up Drill Team, SCSU Cheer, SPDC and the SCSU Dance Team.
The game featured plenty of entertaining moments. From Greg Langston throwing no-look passes and calling out fake-plays to a unique rebounding drill by Hamlet.
Parked under the opposing hoop, Hamlet attempted a lay-up from his unfamiliar seated angle and missed, grabbing his own rebound. He attempted this two more times before losing the ball, only to have a Spokebender player bounce the ball off of his head. Hamlet recovered, converted his next layup and seemed to get the hang of things from that point on, scoring 11 points in the third quarter.
Regardless of results, all parties seemed to have a great time, as did those in attendance. The turnout was apparently great for a first-time event, according to Archambault.
“What we’re really trying to promote here is abilities of all level,” Archambault said. “So, just because somebody uses a wheelchair or somebody has a visual impairment they can still participate in a really competitive game. The game that you saw tonight, they weren’t even going full speed. They were taking it easy on our guys.”