Wheelchair athletes put skills to the test in annual Baltimore basketball tourney 'Speed' and 'knowledge' prerequisites for players

March 03, 1997|By Jonathan Bor | Jonathan Bor,SUN STAFF

On a day when thousands packed a Charlottesville, Va., arena to watch Maryland play Virginia in a nationally televised college basketball game, there were fewer fans than players yesterday for a hoops tournament staged in Baltimore.

But to players in the sixth annual Baltimore City Wheelchair Basketball Challenge, this hardly seemed to matter.

Athletes from Philadelphia, New York, Newark, N.J., Connecticut and, yes, Charlottesville came to compete in a hard-fought but congenial tournament that was designed to let wheelchair players test their skills against players they are not used to seeing. The weekend action took place on two courts at Lake Clifton High School.

The game calls some unique skills into play, like abruptly turning a 90-degree angle by applying a vicelike grip to one wheel. But it is unmistakeably basketball, employing the layups, fast breaks, zone defenses and intensity seen in any college game.

"The game takes speed and basketball knowledge," said Tony Miles, a player on the Metro All-Stars, an ensemble that includes some of the best players from Baltimore and surrounding communities.

"If a player takes time and watches NCAA basketball, he can learn a lot of the defense."

Miles stood 5 feet 3 inches before he stepped on a land mine in 1969 during a tour of duty in Vietnam. After three years of rehabilitation and an unsuccessful attempt to walk with prosthetic legs, he started playing wheelchair basketball.

It kindled a passion that led to a long stint with the Baltimore Ravens, a team that was recently renamed the Maryland Ravens after a run-in with the professional football team that left Cleveland last year for the Land of Pleasant Living.

Miles, who has plans of becoming a head coach, likes to work with young athletes just breaking into the game.

"It takes quite awhile," said Miles, 48, explaining that he likes to work individually with new players. "This way, they don't get frustrated. They have it in mind that they can play, but they find it's more difficult than they thought."

The Ravens, the area's premier team, plays in a conference that includes squads from other Mid-Atlantic states. Baltimore is also home to several other teams that compete in a Thursday-night league during winter. The teams have commercial sponsors, and the league is organized by the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks.

Players include those who have lived their entire lives as paraplegics or without some of their limbs, as well as those maimed by accidents, shootings and war.

"Each one of them has a different disability," said Karen Skinner, who traveled from New York to root for the Asphalt Greens, a Manhattan team on which her husband, Hugo, is assistant coach.

"They all have different strengths, and to see the strengths combined together is pretty interesting."

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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