The basketball court at the School of the Future at 4021 Parkside Ave. was packed last Saturday when “Katie’s Komets” played in the 14th Annual Katie Kirlin Junior Wheelchair Basketball Tournament.
Katie’s Komets is a co-ed sports program, hosted by Philadelphia’s Parks and Recreation, for physically challenged children.
Their wheelchair basketball program is apart of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association and is one of the many sports and activities the program has to offer. The tournament took place Jan. 27–29 and parents, friends and supporters of Katie’s Komets all joined to watch the team play.
Saturday evening, the team took on the “Blazers,” a team from Baltimore as part of the weekend-long tournament. The age group was 14 to 18 and the teams played a tight game with a close score throughout.
In order to play on the league, each individual has to be able to properly push a wheelchair.
The rules follow the basics of basketball, except each player is only allowed three pushes with the basketball. After making three pushes, the player has to either pass or shoot the ball. Any push after three pushes is considered “traveling.”
The teams play with a 10-foot-high basketball hoop and play in tournaments all over the East Coast.
The players don’t let their confinement to a wheelchair hold them back. Stuart Greenburg, the tournament director, continues to be impressed by the drive of the players.
“They work really hard and a lot of these kids go off to play in college,” he said.
Lincoln Edwards, 15, recently joined the team and has found it to be a fun way to stay active.
Edwards, Upper Darby resident and freshman at Upper Darby High School, is physically disabled and uses a wheelchair.
“It’s really exciting being on the team — it gives me great experiences in sports,” he said.
Edwards plans to continue to play wheelchair basketball throughout high school. His family was there to cheer him on, and Edwards’ big brother, O’Brien Walker, was proud of his performance in the game.
“I’m very proud of him, he put a lot of time and effort into playing,” Walker said. “You can see the excitement — you can see how happy he is in his face.”
The game was held blocks away from the Philadelphia Department of Recreation Carousel House, the usual hosting location for games, located at 4300 Avenue of Republic. The Carousel House offers recreational and educational services to people with disabilities in the Philadelphia area.
John and Lee Willis have eight adopted children, 11 children total — three of them, Cammi, 14, Kien, 11, and Diamond, 10, are physically disabled and are in wheelchairs. They each play for Katie’s Komets. John and Lee’s children enjoy the game and enjoy playing on the same team with their brothers and sisters.
“It’s just a really good mixture of people — you have kids that have disabilities, and the great thing is they all do so everyone fits in,” John said. “We are very impressed with the way the team is run.”
Lee and John’s daughter Diamond is deaf, but looks to her coaches and her teammates to stay aware of what’s happening in the game.
Katie’s Komets didn’t win that game, but the coaches and parents were proud of their efforts. The team is working to qualify to go to nationals in March, which will be in Colorado Springs.
“They work with her really well and the coaches do a nice job of engaging her,” Lee said about Diamond. “They really help her with what’s going on in the game — it’s a really good experience for her.”