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Playing basketball in a wheelchair offers a different view

TAMPA — Neena Pacholke has been playing basketball for the past seven years and has never had a problem putting the ball in the net.

But for the past eight weeks, she hasn't been able to score a basket.

Every Thursday for the past two months, Neena and her teammates from the Tampa Extreme, a basketball club for girls 11 to 16, travel to the All People's Life Center in Tampa and play with athletes from BlazeSports Club of Tampa Bay.

The reason for Neena's struggles is that she has to play the game in a new way, from a wheelchair, like each member of BlazeSports, a program for physically challenged youth and adults.

"It's so much harder not being able to jump while shooting, you need a lot of arm strength to get the ball up," 12-year-old Neena said. "When I play in the wheelchair, I'm definitely a lot more tired than I am after (playing a game) running around."

While the two teams may get up and down the court differently, playing together has shown their love for the game is the same.

"Basketball is my favorite sport," Kenjy Asin, 20, said. "For me it was different because I never really played basketball, but once I started playing, I liked it more and more."

After a car accident when he was 9, Asin's legs were amputated.

When he joined BlazeSports five years ago, he fell in love with the game. Asin has practiced so much that he can now hit shots from beyond the three-point arc.

Along with athletic ability, the two teams are made up of some of the brightest students in the bay area. Each team requires its student athletes to maintain a high GPA, and nearly all members participating are part of the National Honors Society.

The Extreme has girls from Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties while BlazeSports consists of athletes from Hillsborough.

March 6 marked the final time the teams will play basketball together this season, as the Extreme begin its tournament play and BlazeSports moves into its track and field and swimming season.

About 25 players participated and two teams were formed by captains choosing from each club.

For the first half of the game, members of the Extreme can run up and down the court, but in the second half they play in wheelchairs.

"Starting out, everyone was a little shy with each other," said Andy Chasanoff, sports coordinator for BlazeSports. "But to see them out here now interacting with each other is great. Our kids learned to be more outgoing and everyone has become great friends."

Not only are the teams friends, but also fans of each other.

BlazeSports went to Orlando to face another basketball team and the Extreme tagged along cheering from the stands and holding signs.

This season, BlazeSports won both games it played.

At the end of the game Thursday, players from both teams gathered around and cheered Neena on as she hit her first shot from a wheelchair.

"It felt good to finally make one," Neena said. "We're all a big family here and I've had a lot of fun. We've developed our own secret handshakes and I can't wait until next year when start playing again."

>>FAST FACTS

Tampa Extreme

Founded: 2001

Sport: basketball

Locations: Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties

BlazeSports

Founded: 2003

Sports: basketball, weight lifting, track and field, swimming and tennis

Location: All People's Life Center, 6105 E Sligh Ave.

For more information on BlazeSports, contact coordinator Andy Chasanoff at (813) 744-5309 or dsportsncprd@aol.com.

Playing basketball in a wheelchair offers a different view 03/14/08 [Last modified: Friday, March 14, 2008 2:33am]
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