The sound of screaming basketball fans echoed outside of the packed Bender Arena located in American University Park. It wasn’t the usual basketball game; instead, the two teams competing were in wheelchairs.
The voices of the players transcended the screams from the audience as they quickly raced from one side of the court to the other. Their arms pumped to turn the wheels that moved them and screeching sounds that escaped from the clashing metal of the wheelchairs didn’t slow them down. Throughout the game, the referees would stop the game to fix any problems the players may have with their wheelchairs, but the competitive spirit never left the court.
American University’s Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity hosted the Armed Forces Wheelchair Basketball benefit game April 1with players from the Walter Reed Army Center’s “Wounded Soldiers” vs. the San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center. The money raised from the game would be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project and Push America.
The Wounded Warrior Project is dedicated to raising awareness about the needs of wounded soldiers. The program teamed up with Push America, a support program for people with disabilities. “My whole thing is making sure that people know that the soldiers who fight for this country sometimes come back hurt,” said Ryan Kules, a spokesperson for the Wounded Warrior Project, “and it really is all of our responsibilities to help improve their quality of life. They more than deserve it.”
The basketball game kicked off by the American University president Neil Kerwin opened the game acknowledging the important work of the military and the two organizations that worked with people with disabilities. “Let us be the catalyst that begins a change with young people” Kewin said. “Set the standard for different organizations at other universities and become the change we want to see in others.”
As the teams worked the court, nearly 500 fans and supporters screamed for their favorite team. “It’s really cool that they are capable of still playing ball regardless of their injuries.,” said Brian Ascoff, 26, of American University Park. “This whole thing really puts things in perspective. I can honestly say that I never gave wounded veterans that much thought until now.”
Throughout the game, people were encouraged to talk with the representatives of Push America and the Wounded Warrior Project. “Not only are we here to raise money for our cause, but most importantly to encourage people to keep the soldiers in their minds after the game is over,” said Nichole Gardner, 33, a Push America volunteer. “We really just want to inform people on how important it is to not forget.
The event offered a firsthand account from soldiers about how the war affected them. During halftime, Joseph Kennedy, 26, gave a moving speech about his experiences as a wounded soldier and the obstacles he had to overcome as a result of his injuries.
“My first trip was back in 2002” said Joseph Kennedy, 26, an Army veteran. “I went for a year-round tour with two possible leaves. I had no idea that on my first leave home I would be coming back without a leg. “Not only that, but this is what I love to do and I can’t do it any more. That’s the part that sucks.”
After he spoke, many people began to drop more money into the donation jars set up around the gymnasium. “I hate to say that I only gave money because of the speeches. It’s moving to hear their stories,” says Courtney Adams, 22. “You appreciate what they do so much more because at the end of the day they really are doing it for us. We forget that.”
Drops of sweat poured down the players’ faces. In the end, the Walter Reed won 65-58.
But San Antonio’s Brooke Army Medical Center team was philosophical about their loss. “It was never about the basketball game,” says Anthony Lewis, 35.Of course we would have loved to win, but the turnout and the impact that we had in general is seriously more than enough.”