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Dupage wheelchair basketball team has openings
By Ron Skrabacz | Daily Herald Columnist

Northeast DuPage Special Recreation's Junior Wheelchair Bulls hosts a tournament that draws other teams to Addison. The NEDSRA team is in jeopardy because of low participation.

 

Ed Lee | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/13/2008 12:07 AM

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With the 2008-09 season right around the corner, the Northeast DuPage Special Recreation Association currently has several openings for their Junior Bulls wheelchair basketball team.

Jerry Barton, NEDSRA recreation coordinator and coach of the team, says the numbers are down from previous years, but he is confident he can fill the slots. So far, he has five committed players - enough to field a team, but not yet enough to sustain a season.

"That just isn't quite enough with people being absent or sick," he said. "We need to add some players so that when we do our traveling we have subs. We need enough people there in case someone gets injured or someone's not able to make it for a weekend."

Last season Barton usually had eight or nine players at the games. Several of those players, however, have moved on.

"We had a drop," he said of his roster numbers. "We had one kid who moved so they had to stop with the program. We had three kids who graduated high school and at that point you're not eligible for the youth team anymore."

The Junior Bulls maximum age is 21 years, or graduating high school, whichever comes first. The minimum age is 6 years.

Recently NEDSRA has been offering a Thursday night open gym program in Addison for wheelchair basketball in hopes of generating more interest and finding more players. The open gym time is 7 to 8:30 p.m. and runs every Thursday through Sept. 25. Regular team practice is scheduled to begin on Oct. 4 with actual games starting around mid-November.

"If they can come to a Thursday night open gym that would be great," Barton said. "I just want them to start spreading the word."

Barton, entering his fifth season as the Junior Bulls coach, believes getting the word out is the solution to the smaller roster size. NEDSRA services 11 communities between Glendale Heights and Schiller Park, while reaching as far south as Oakbrook Terrace. Although it is desirable for the team's players to come from the NEDSRA region, it is not mandatory. Barton has extended his search beyond those boundaries.

"Personally, I'm having trouble locating or identifying younger kids who might be interested, but don't know about wheelchair sports," he said. "So this summer I've made a push. I've been contacting the Rehab Institute of Chicago and Children's Memorial Hospital; organizations like that who deal directly with people with disabilities."

Barton is hopeful these organizations will include the NEDSRA Junior Bulls in their referral programs for kids.

Wheelchair basketball players also do not have be 100 percent wheelchair bound. Not everyone realizes that point according to Barton, and he estimates, during his tenure as coach, about a third of his players have had the ability to walk.

"We're looking for anyone who has a physical disability that would prevent them from playing what we call 'stand-up' basketball, the common form of basketball," he said. "We've had players who are ambulatory, or who can walk. They have a disability like cerebral palsy, but they're able to walk. Their disability does prevent them from playing stand-up basketball."

In some cases, the parents have to be sold on letting their son or daughter join a sport like wheelchair basketball. Barton reiterates that getting the potential player out to the gym is the most important step, and it allows children and parents a chance to see the benefits.

"Let them try it," Barton insists. "The one thing I want to do is get people to the gym. It's very hard to explain the power of basketball, or to see your kid develop and succeed, unless you can actually see it and watch them trying it."

If equipment or damage to a child's personal chair is a problem, NEDSRA has a solution to that also.

"We have a whole storage room full of sports wheelchairs," Barton said. "We can provide that type of equipment if people don't have it."

Anyone interested in the Junior Bulls wheelchair basketball program can visit the NEDSRA Web site at www.nedsra.org or contact Jerry Barton at (630) 620-4500, ext. 137.

Another Web site, www.jrbulls.org, includes action photos of the Junior Bulls from last season.