A First for Phillip

26 10 2011

The new kid arrived late to basketball practice. I had just started a drill with the other players and I could tell that Phillip felt apprehensive about interrupting what was already going on in the gym. The other players were doing their thing, but for the moment they had their attention diverted to the new face near the entrance. Some coaches may have carried on and ignored the intrusion of a late player. This would never happen on our team.

I spent the next few minutes setting up Phillip in a sport wheelchair, ensuring that there were adequate foot straps and that the black velcro band that sat across his lap was able to be tight enough for him. He hadn’t sat in a sport chair before and I could tell he was looking forward to trying out his new set of wheels. He sped off and joined in to what he was able to do and by the end of the night, felt very much included by the others.

That was last week.

At practice yesterday, it seemed like Phillip had been there for years. Eager. Confident. He was calling other players by their nicknames and simply put, he was having a blast. I’m not sure even he was ready for what was about to happen.

In wheelchair basketball, we teach our kids to position themselves to the side of the hoop where their chances for scoring are far greater than if they were to face it head on. Using the backboard is critical and so layups are a fundamental drill we do. Start out wide up at the top of the key, cut to the hoop, make sure your chair is pointed at a 45 degree angle to the basket, wait while you coast closer, and at precisely the right time – shoot off the backboard and hope for the best. Some of our kids are very skilled at this and are excellent role models to rookies like Phillip.

If you were to ask him, having Cerebral Palsy presents an additional challenge in the gym for Phillip’s core strength is lacking and his shooting range is limited. I placed him under the 8 1/2 foot hoop where I thought his chances of success would be greatest, but his shots barely hit the rim time after time. He was determined however, and looked to me as to what he could do to get it up that precious 6 inches further. “Let’s try something else” I offered.

A National Team Coach taught me that momentum can be a fantastic thing for players like Phillip. The sheer momentum of a moving wheelchair may be just the thing that would allow Phillip to improve his shots. So from about the 3 point line, he got in his shooting position and I pushed him toward the hoop and waited for the results. It wasn’t a textbook shot, but he did hit the backboard up high which was a good sign. “Let’s do this again Phillip – remember what we talked about” I offered.

His second shot was like something one would see in a movie like Hoosiers. It went off the backboard, it bounced around up there and eventually it went in! I was so proud that his determination paid off. “I scored! I scored!” was all that we heard. The moment was his. “I scored my first basket!” What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was the first basket Phillip scored – ever. Not just the first of the night, it was the first of his life. A very special moment indeed. You can imagine the smile on this 15-year old’s face that seemed to extend as wide as the gym itself. What  made it even better was there was even a few parents in addition to the rest of the team that got to see it firsthand.

As teachers, we live for the moment when we can see in our student’s eyes that the concept has been caught. As coaches, moments like these ones with a basketball and a wheelchair make it all worthwhile. What a privilege to be involved in a first for Phillip!




4 responses

1 11 2011

Great Post Brad, glad it’s going well and I can’t wait to see the chilliwack cheetas play the gold rush, and i’m looking forward to meeting Phillip.

Hope all is well

Nathan. Bragg

15 11 2011
Erica Retief

Love your article Brad, as a parent I can only be truly thankful for people like yourself that takes the time to build up so much confidence in kids. Phillip is sooooooo excited to be part of this team!

With appreciation
Erica (Phil’s mom)

15 11 2011

Dear Brad, thank you for making Phillip feel so special. I hope you know how much you mean to these kids. Thank you again. Petrus, (Phillip’s dad).

18 11 2011

Thanks for the comments Retief family! It’s a mutual thing. The WC basketball group means a lot to me. I’m not sure who enjoys it more. It’s been a pleasure to get to know your family and it’s been a joy to see Phillip progress so quickly in a few weeks. Your affirmation is much appreciated. – BH

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