CALEDONIA — Members of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater wheelchair basketball teams spun, dribbled, shot, rammed into each other, fell to the ground and picked themselves up to teach students at Olympia Brown Elementary School on Wednesday about overcoming challenges.
Although the teams’ message was meant for all students at the school, the staff hoped it would be especially meaningful for third-grade student Patrick Beecher, who uses a wheelchair himself.
Beecher was bashful as he and his peers learned about the team members’ abilities. He watched from the sidelines while other students and teachers took turns using special wheelchairs to shoot some hoops with the team.
But after the gym cleared, Beecher spoke with the teams’ coach, Jeremy “Opie” Lade, and tried out a basketball wheelchair himself.
“It was cool,” Beecher said about watching the athletes show off their skills.
Andrea Marsch, Beecher’s physical education teacher at Olympia Brown, 2115 5 ½ Mile Road, said she hoped the event would help build Beecher’s confidence.
“We wanted him to see that he’s like everybody else, and that he really can do anything he wants, and to show him that he’s not different,” Marsch said. “We want him to feel good about himself.”
All of the athletes who came to Olympia Brown on Wednesday shared a little about themselves and the reason each one uses a wheelchair. Dylan Fischbach, a physical education major at UW-Whitewater, lost his right leg to cancer when he was 3.
Lindsey Zurbrugg, an athletic training major, has used a wheelchair since she was 13. She was at a basketball camp for able-bodied people when she injured her back, exacerbating a condition she was born with. It left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Zurbrugg is now a member of the USA women’s team and hopes to compete in the 2020 Paralympics in Tokyo.
Lade broke his back, injuring his spinal cord in a car accident when he was 8.
Beecher has a similar story. He was paralyzed from the chest down in an accident in 2012 on Highway 38 in Caledonia near Brook Road. He was 3 at the time.
Lade said he sees himself as fortunate because when he returned to school after the accident, all of his friends treated him the same as they did before the incident.
Although the athletes all have different life experiences, they share a passion for the game.
At first, Zurbrugg was skeptical about wheelchair basketball but decided to give it a shot.
“I went to one practice and instantly loved it,” she said.
Maddux Dopson, a third grader, was one of the students who tried wheelchair basketball Wednesday.
“It was fun, but it was super hard,” he said.
Defense was the most difficult part for him because the Whitewater players were so fast. Dribbling was also a challenge.
“It would hit the wheel when you were trying to dribble and then it would go to the other team,” Dopson said.
A handful of students at a time played with the athletes, some making shots at lowered hoops. Teachers got in on the fun as well.
UW-Whitewater wheelchair basketball players have been speaking to students around the state through the Cornerstones for Success program for about 20 years. They typically make 40 to 50 school visits per year.
“I think it’s really exciting for us to be able to open up the doors and open up opportunities for individuals with disabilities,” Lade said. “I think myself, and all of our athletes included, someone opened those doors for us, and for us to be able to pay it forward and provide that opportunity for kids to find out about adaptive sports is really exciting.”
The Olympia Brown Parent Teacher Association funded the team’s visit to the school.
“It was fun, but it was super hard.” Maddux Dopson, third grade Olympia Brown Elementary student