Junior Chariots pull out nail-biter at 10th annual holiday tourney

By Doug Halberstadt

Sports Columnist

Last week, I wrote a column about how I was lacking in my knowledge of wheelchair basketball in the Rockford area. I sent out a request for some help from the readers to enlighten me about the current status of the sport locally.

Talk about perfect timing. Less than a few hours after our paper hit the newsstands, I had an e-mail from Abby Oakley. She is one of the assistant coaches for the Rockford Junior Chariots and a member of the Rockford Chariots Wheelchair Athletic Association. She informed me that Rockford was hosting the 10th Annual Junior Wheelchair Basketball Holiday Tournament at Harlem High School last weekend. She invited me to come out and see some of the games.

Boy, am I glad she did. I went Sunday (Dec. 13) morning and caught the Junior Chariots in a nail-biter with the NEDSRA Junior Bulls from Addison, Ill.

The two teams were tied at the end of regulation, 20-20. That meant a 5-minute overtime period for the already-exhausted two teams.

That’s when Junior Chariot Jacob Gregor found his second wind. He scored all six overtime points, including the winning basket with less than 5 seconds left in overtime, for the victorious Junior Chariots. They won 26-24. What a game!

Twenty-two teams from throughout the Midwest competed in the two-day weekend holiday tournament. I only wish I had known about this tournament a couple of weeks earlier. I could have written a story ahead of time and encouraged more of the public to come out and support these incredible athletes.

For those of us slightly unfamiliar with the intricacies of the sport, it is basically the same as NCAA-sanctioned basketball with only a few exceptions. The chair is considered part of the player. General rules of contact in regular basketball (charging, blocking, etc.) apply to wheelchair basketball. A player in possession of the ball may not push more than twice in succession with one or both hands in either direction without tapping the ball to the floor again. Taking more than two successive pushes without bouncing the ball on the floor constitutes a travel.

If a player falls out of the chair during play, the officials will immediately suspend play if there is any chance of danger to the fallen player. If not, the officials will withhold their whistles until the particular play in progress is completed. Other than those few exceptions, the game is the same as any other youth basketball game you’ve seen. There are screens, dribble drives, outlet passes and full-court presses that impress even the casual fan.

I was informed at Sunday’s game that the Rockford Chariots will be having a tournament coming up in February 2010. I was promised I would have the details early enough to do an advance story. When you read it, make an effort to get out and catch one of their games. If it’s anything as exciting as the Junior Chariots games, you’ll be very glad you did.

From the Dec. 16-22, 2009 issue

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