Students, teachers learn from wheelchair athletes

April 26, 1995|By Heather Reese | Heather Reese,Contributing Writer

Students and teachers at Mount Airy Middle School found out a little of what it's like to be disabled -- and they did it by playing basketball.

The game of wheelchair basketball was played yesterday as part of the school's Disability Awareness Week.

Lois Dolan, a special needs teacher at the middle school, organized Disability Awareness Week to give mainstream students an idea of what life is like for disabled people. The awareness week coincides with the county's Special Olympics competition today at Westminster High School.

About 40 mainstream students from Mount Airy Middle will be on hand to cheer their special needs classmates.

"The goal is to make it more real to the kids that everyone is different, and we are all equal," Ms. Dolan said.

The basketball game was between three members of the Maryland Wheelchair Athletics Promotions (MWAP) and selected teams of students and teachers.

Despite the three-on-five match-up, the game wasn't even close.

The wheelchair athletes shut down every team the school could throw their way.

"For the most part you guys have a lot of heart and courage to come out for the competition. You guys came out and tried to beat us," said Larry Hughes, executive director of the MWAP and a state commissioner of physical fitness. "I hope you noticed our abilities and not our disabilities," he added.

Mr. Hughes was joined on the court by Joe Singleton, secretary of the MWAP, and member Mike Hylton. All three men have used wheelchairs for at least 10 years, although Mr. Hylton explained that their situations are different. "We're all individuals like you guys are individuals," he said.

Playing in a wheelchair is not as easy as it may look, and a highlight of the day for students was the sight of Principal Larry Barnes sprawled on the court after falling from his chair in mid-shot.

"It was a lot of fun after you got used to it. If I had the time to work with it, it'd be more fun," said Mr. Barnes.

The students were very enthusiastic about the event and most wanted to play. Those who got a chance soon found the experience humbling.

"It was very hard. The wheels would slip and when you tried to turn the wheels wouldn't turn," said Joey Cairns, a seventh-grader.

Michelle Williams said steering the wheelchair was tiring. "Your arms start to hurt and you're afraid to turn and fall because you don't want to hit your head," she said.

Mr. Hughes has been staging the basketball games in schools around Maryland for at least 10 years because he wants to let the students know that people with disabilities aren't all that different. "We need to give people with disabilities back their rights," he said. "We can all co-exist together."

Ms. Dolan said that the Mount Airy middle school students and parents have a positive attitude toward students with disabilities.

"We have a fantastic mainstream community. A lot of people don't want be to around students who have disabilities, but our mainstream students are so helpful. I have parents ask if their children can be in class with them [the special needs students]," she said.

Mr. Barnes said Disability Awareness Week and the basketball competition offer a good way to teach the students that everyone is equal.

"All of us have disabilities in a certain way, we aren't all good at everything. They [the MWAP athletes] are much more adept, we are the disabled ones in a wheelchair. This shows the children that while they might not be disabled in one way, they are in another," he said.

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