Proponents of wheelchair basketball hope that a third-place bronze medal showing by the northwest team at the B.C. Winter Games in Fort St. John in February will help the sport gain a strong presence here and elsewhere.
Four Terrace athletes, including two brothers, were on the mixed male/female team of able-bodied players and people who use wheelchairs in their everyday lives as a representation of the inclusive nature of the sport.
“We’re incredibly impressed with all of the athletes. Earning a bronze medal far exceeded our goal for this new team,” says Brandy Stiles from the Prince George-based Northern Adapted Sports Association.
“It was so great to have Zone 7 represented this year as there hasn’t been a northwest team for wheelchair basketball at the B.C. Winter Games since 2014. We look forward to developing a local wheelchair basketball program in the region and recruiting future B.C. Winter Games participants for this fun, inclusive sport,” she says.
The Terrace athletes were Colton and Justin Carrita, Sylvie Klein and Chantel Stiles. Kayleigh Robinson, also from Terrace, played on the Vancouver-Coastal team.
Stiles says the idea for a northwest zone at the games came from a trip that her husband Rob Stiles made to Terrace and Prince Rupert late last year to demonstrate the sport and to emphasize that it’s open to people of all abilities.
That’s when Stiles, who happens to be a coach with the Northern Adapted Sports Association, met Justin Carrita, Sylvie Klein and Cayleigh Robinson and in taking note of their interest, began the work of assembling a team for the games.
Wheelchair basketball is similar to its able-bodied counterpart but has the same basket height and the same boundaries for three-point shooting.
“People may be surprised that the basket is the same height – 10 feet. They often think it’s lower, but it’s not,” says BrandyStiles.
And that requires a change in shooting technique for players used to playing the able-bodied version, she added.
One main difference between the two versions are the customized wheelchairs.
Stiles says teams not only require a customized wheelchair for each player but also have to have extras in case of breakdowns or to provide spare parts.
“They can cost around $4,000 each and ideally to have teams playing each other, you’d need up to a dozen,” she continued.
For Colton Carrita, 20, competing at the B.C. Winter Games gave him a chance to hone skills from playing wheelchair basketball with a team in Prince George for a year and a half – Colton is in his third year of studying biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Northern British Columbia.
“While visiting Skeena Middle School, Rob [Stiles] had noticed that Justin had a knack for both basketball and for moving in a chair. Therefore, he had offered Justin the opportunity to represent Zone 7 in the BC Games and offered me the same,” added Carrita of how he came to play alongside his 13-year-old brother.
Born with three cysts on his spine which compressed his spinal cord, Carrita went through several surgeries, including one on a heel cord and hamstring, while growing up.
A subsequent surgery involved inserting steel rods to straighten out his back.
For both brothers, Fort St. John was their first competitive experience.
Although the elder Carrita plays alongside some of the other team members in Prince George, the team for the games didn’t have a chance to practice as a full squad before making the trip to Fort St. John.
“It was pretty cool to see all of us who had never played together before band together, win games, and win bronze as we did,” he says.