Two Rolls, One Dribble

By Alexandria Mandry

The New York Rolling Fury is a free wheelchair basketball league for people ages five to 21. The league began in Long Island and has now expanded to New York City. The team has partnered with New York City Parks to increase the number of accessible locations for disabled players to practice.

Christopher Bacon, the head coach and vice president of the team, has been involved with wheelchair basketball for eight years. Bacon has twin sons, one of which is disabled. “When one saw the other being active, he wanted to get involved too,” said Bacon.

Bacon took his son, who is in a wheelchair, to the Empire State Games for the Physically Challenged, where he says Long Island Lightning “found him.” His son now attends the University of Alabama on a full scholarship thanks to the wheelchair basketball team. Bacon is now head coach and has changed the team name from the Long Island Lightning to New York Rolling Fury.

“Why aren’t you in your chair yet Nia?” Coach Bacon shouts across the room as practices starts. The team is comprised of 16 players, but only three make it to practice because the weather prevents the rest from getting to the recreation center.

Accessibility is often an issue for disabled athletes. Assistant Coach Christopher Noel, who is wheelchair bound says he had trouble getting to practice that morning as well.

Noel explains he was trapped in his house because the snow was packed to his door by plows. Thanks to his neighbors’ help shoveling him out, he makes it to practice only a few minutes late. For Noel, who is also the New York City Parks accessibility coordinator, this is just another winter ritual.

The intense two-hour practice starts at 11 a.m. The players start with drills to improve their layups. Taveras and Best sprint to opposite sides of the court in a figure eight form, as their coaches send long basketball passes that lead to, what looks like, an effortless layup.

After everyone is warmed up, Bacon gives me the opportunity to experience the game first hand. The teams are “Age” verses “Beauty,” which means it is Bacon, Noel, and I against the youthful and speedy Taveras and Best.

After a few broken nails, I am rolling. Two rolls, one dribble. Two rolls, one dribble. I might have to ice my arms for the next two weeks, but this is a workout I could never replicate in the gym. The players are competitive, yet they laughing throughout the game. Sadly, “Age” lost our first game.

Soon after, Joanna Nieh arrives and the team resumes dribbling the ball and shooting layups. Neih’s father accompanies her to practice and jumps into a new scrimmage while I rest my shoulders.

High school senior Marcos Taveras has been on the team since he was 13. His social worker from school introduced him to the sport. He says he was intimidated at first by the faster kids on the team, but now he is grateful for the friends he has made. And, more importantly, that it has given him the opportunity to talk to girls.

Some people think that wheelchair basketball is not a hard sport, he says. “Get in a chair yourself,” he says. “This sport takes a lot of upper body strength and cardio.”

Taveras plans to pursue a career in law and he hopes to use a wheelchair basketball scholarship to pay for college. The National Wheelchair Basketball Association offers free tuition in 22 colleges that offer adaptive sports.

New York Rolling Fury is funded through donations and struggles at times to pay for transportation and gear. Parents play a big role too, says Noel. They volunteer and drive the players to practices and games.

Noel has been in a wheelchair for more than 10 years and says he has always had a passion for basketball. Growing up he played for his high school and college teams until an accident made it impossible to walk.

When he is not coaching, Noel’s job is to insure that all city parks are wheelchair accessible and he conducts
adaptive programs for all disabilities. Noel also hosts a clinic that teaches physical education teachers how to engage children with all disabilities. “Teachers motivate the student,” he says.

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