By Ms. Anna V Eisenburg (Army Medicine)June 17, 2014
West Point, New York--Cheers from Gillis Field House's multi-purpose stadium reached the parking lot as Army and Air Force squared off at the 2014 U.S. Army Warrior Trials wheelchair basketball preliminaries last night (June 16). Screams of support and chants from both sides hovered over the players in a constant din as Army Green won with a 30-10 point lead.
"They did excellent. They passed the ball well and worked together as a team," said coach Jermell Penne of his team's victory.
Army B Team lost to the Marines 12-14 following the sweep against the Air Force. "I gave it my best shot. It was good to play with all the guys," said Master Sgt. Rhoden Galloway of Team Army's game against the Marines.
Wheelchair basketball is a fighter's sport. The chair's large wheels slant out like an acute triangle with a third, smaller one at the back to help stabilize the player. The tires are made of a different tread to streamline more seamless movements, and the rider wears a seatbelt--an effort to keep the athlete in the chair as the players slam into each other in attempts to steal the ball or block a shot.
A player still belted in, relying on arm strength alone to flip him or herself over the back of a toppled chair is not an unusual sight. These athletes are powerful. These athletes are persistent.
Tenacious too are the fans, rolling out in waves of Air Force blue on one set of bleachers and Army Green on the next. "Air Force! Air Force!" sang Blue. "Army! Strong! Army! Strong!" came the response.
"We are all one team," said Army Spc. Amanda Lyle, an Army Warrior Trials athlete competing in four other sports. A supporter of this event, she came because "we are all trying out for Team Army for Warrior Games. They supported me in volleyball. Tonight I am here for them."
Rich Jarvitz, an Air Force athlete cheering on Blue, felt comfortable sitting next to Army fans. "We are competitive and we want to win, but we're a big family," he said of the game. "Just being around other wounded, ill and injured service members really helps with my recovery. It ties us together."
The loudest voice in the room, though, belonged to Army Staff Sgt. Sheldon Simmons, a member of the Cadre at the Warrior Transition Unit, Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
"These guys inspire me. They pump me up," he said, taking a brief break from running across the court, the Army flag unfurling above his head.
"I am a Soldier all day every day. It could be me in that wheelchair," Simmons reflected. "It's a competition but it's all in fun. We go to war together--we are all on the same team," he said of the opposing Air Force. Grinning, he reminded the crowd, "right now, though, we're not!"