Winter Games

Wheelies wow fans at Canada Games

By Michelle Martin & Melanie Reader
Pasadena Academy
Pasadena, Newfoundland

Stewart McKeown, the assistant coach for the Saskatchewan wheelchair basketball team, or "wheelies" as they call themselves, was extremely happy with his team's win over the Newfoundland and Labrador team.

On February 18, his twelve-player team won its last game, with a close score of 42-35. The team consists of six able-bodied and six disabled players, who are between the ages of 14 and 24. Among these, there are five females.

Though happy about the win, they were not pleased with their overall standing because they would return home without a medal. But they did fight hard and tried their best and according to McKeown, "We're happy with the win but we probably should have done better".

Player Jeff Mitchell acknowledges this, but also adds, "We're a young, fresh team and it's just fun to participate."

Wheelchair basketball is a relatively new sport in the games -- it was first introduced at the Grande Prairie Games in Jasper in 1995. Two of the wheelies, Melanie Stare and Michael Bennett, as well as McKeown who is also disabled, attended those games and have been playing their sport for many years.

"It's a lot more personal than other sports," says Bennett, "because it's not all that common."

Fortunately, because of the Canada Games, wheelchair basketball is getting a lot of attention. "It's kind of nice to have it in the Canada Games now," says Stare.

With their help, we were able to learn some of the different rules of this unique sport, especially the point system.

"You have to have a mix of both disabled and able-bodied players which total fourteen points on the floor," says McKeown. "The more disabled you are, the fewer points you are assigned."


One of the members, Mike Cummins, the oldest player on the team, is an amputee, yet he plays at the 4.5 level because he has no disability that hinders his balance. As well, female players and juniors, who are sixteen years old and younger cause the point value on the court to increase by one. This balance of male and female, able-bodied and disabled, must add up to fourteen points. That results in an even balance which makes for a very competitive and exciting sport. An interesting note is that wheelchair basketball is one of the few team sports that have both men and women playing side by side.

Curiosity had us killed! We could not understand why an able-bodied athlete would want to play this type of sport, especially when regular basketball is so much more easier and popular. McKeown, however, changed our minds about that.

"It's a completely different game although able-bodied players must know how to play stand-up basketball well first," he says. "Then, it's like riding a bicycle; there's a lot of tricks and practising to learn how to get better at manoeuvring the wheelchair."

Melanie Reader and some of the Saskatchewan wheelchair basketball team

After watching a few games, we started to see why they would choose this sport. It's an excellent spectator sport with lots of action. The athletes were having a "ball" while they played their hearts out.

The players were competitive with each other but also showed unbelievable sportsmanship towards each other. The Newfoundland team lost but were excellent sports, and three of their players posed for us after the game. Whenever disabled athletes lost their balance on the court, the other athletes would quickly come to their aid.

An example that we remember well is from a game between Ontario and Alberta. Even though it was an Ontario player that fell, an Alberta able-bodied player swiftly hopped out of his chair to help his fallen opponent back on his wheels. It was acts like this that really caught our attention.

All of the athletes agree that Newfoundland is an awesome place to be. They thought that the people were great and had already decided that they were going to return to Newfoundland someday.

"Everyone's really nice to us. The volunteers are always carrying our chairs for us and they don't have to do that," comments Chris Clark, one of the able-bodied players on the team. "People will go to the table and take our trays so that the wheelchair athletes don't have to carry them around. They're really nice!"

Jennifer Mitchelmore, the youngest player on the team added, "I will definitely come back to Newfoundland. I like it here."

Another teammate of theirs, Jeff Mitchell, definitely agrees.

"It's quite a change from the flatlands of Saskatchewan. I would probably come back in the spring or summer; I haven't had a thing to complain about!"

Overall, the wheelchair basketball competition was an inspiration to all of the spectators, especially to us. To see the strength of their bodies as well as their courage made us realize that we can all overcome an obstacle that seems too hard to conquer. They showed us the spirit of the Winter Games and the determination that shines from all athletes. Thanks, to all the wheelies, for teaching us not only the rules of the game, but also what it takes to be a true athlete!