ARLINGTON– As they get ready to compete against their counterparts from other service branches, soldiers trying out for the U.S. Army's wheelchair basketball team learned from some of the best in the sport this weekend.
KELLEY CHINN/Special Contributor
Army Spc. Craig Smithtook a spill while on the court with Army veteran Randall McMinn (left) of the UTA Movin' Mavs during a wheelchair basketball tournament Saturday.
The soldiers belong to the Army's Warrior Transition Unit, set up in 2007 to support soldiers injured in the line of duty and their families. In May, they'll be playing in the Warrior Games, a joint program of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Olympic Committee.
"We try to use sports to help them in their transition," said Maj. Chris Cooper, who oversees adaptive sports for the Warrior Transition Command. "It definitely makes a significant difference in the process."
They trained in a clinic hosted by the University of Texasat Arlington's Movin' Mavs, one of the top programs in the country, then played against each other in a tournament that will help narrow a field of 25 soldiers to 10 for the Army's team. The event closed Saturday night with a game against the Movin' Mavs.
Some of the soldiers lost limbs in combat, while others suffered paralysis, knee injuries and back injuries.
Joining the warrior transition program helped Sgt. Le'Roy L. Scott II realize that he's still able to contribute as a soldier, even though he can no longer run miles with a pack strapped to his back. In August 2007, he was hurt by an improvised explosive device, nearly died and is still facing more surgery.
"These guys taught me it's OK," said Scott, 36, who grew up inPhiladelphiaand is based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. "After the injury, I realized what mattered to me the most – my kids, my family."
Playing sports has been helpful for Pfc. Dean Baker, based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. He was paralyzed from the waist down by a car bomb in Iraqnearly two years ago.
"I just thought I was done," said Baker, 19. "My Army career was over."
He eventually started playing basketball at a community recreation program and found something that's helped him stay in shape. Even though he wasn't much good at basketball before, Baker said, he's gotten the hang of the wheelchair game.
"I don't really like to go work out in a gym," he said. "Staying in shape, it's helped a lot with my back."
Baker has regained the ability to walk, though he is still partially paralyzed in one leg.
While some at the weekend camp had rarely touched a basketball before, Spc. Roshanda White had long played the game before she suffered a major knee injury when she was based in Korea. She played it in a wheelchair for the first time this week.
"I came around pretty good," said the 27-year-old, who is based in Heidelberg, Germany. "This is something that can be done to boost morale and to put that spirit in people's lives. This puts us back out there.