By Doug Halberstadt
March Madness has officially come to a close. By the time you are reading this, either the Louisville Cardinals or the Michigan Wolverines will be crowned NCAA tournament champions (results of championship game unavailable at press time). Most amateur basketball fans consider this to be the end of the season. Not so fast.
I know some local guys who are still very busy practicing and preparing for their chance to hoop it up in a national tournament. They are the dedicated and hardworking members of the Rockford Jr. Chariots wheelchair basketball team. In about a week, they’ll be making a trip down to Louisville, Ky., to compete in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association championship tournament.
The 65th NWBA Tournament, scheduled for April 17-21, will be one of Kentucky’s largest athletic events in 2013 and the largest wheelchair basketball tournament in the world. The 2013 tournament is expected to have the most players and spectators in its 65-year history.
This past weekend, I had a chance to catch the Jr. Chariots in a tune-up game against a team composed of some former Chariot players and a couple of other “ringers.” The game was played Sunday (April, 7) in the Dakota High School gymnasium. The crowd was treated to a very competitive game between the two teams. They traded the lead several times in the first period, but neither team could get up by more than a bucket. The score was tied at 20 at the half.
The second half was much of the same, until the final 4 minutes. That’s when the youthful Jr. Chariots capitalized on several turnovers and converted those opportunities into points. The Jr. Chariots rolled their way to victory, 41-36.
Despite their youth and lack of depth, the Jr. Chariots showed why they are ranked fourth nationally in the NIT Junior Division. Even in this “exhibition” game, they played disciplined offense and defense, made some terrific passes, and even dropped in a handful of 3-pointers against their elder opponents.
If they can continue to play with the intensity, determination and effort they showed Sunday, I’m predicting they’re going to have a great time in Louisville.
The Jr. Chariots tournament schedule was unavailable at press time, but is expected to be available this week at the official website of the tournament, www.nwba.org.
From the April 10-16, 2013, issue