Burnaby students roll with wheelchair basketball

Students at a Burnaby elementary school got a chance to try out how some of their fellow students roll during an annual unit of wheelchair basketball last week (Feb. 15).

For three years, Cameron Elementary Grade 5/6 teacher Rosemary Venos has arranged the rental of 10 wheelchairs from B.C. Wheelchair Basketball so students at her school can try their hand at the sport.

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"It's about inclusion, number 1, and understanding different perspectives, having students realize what it's like to be in a wheelchair, yet in a fun environment," Venos said.

She launched the initiative three years ago after her son Thomas was paralyzed from the hips down in a dirt bike accident two days before his 16th birthday.

He has since become Canada's top-ranked junior in wheelchair tennis, but that first year at Cameron he demonstrated his hoop skills, according to Venos.

Since then, the weeklong wheelchair basketball unit - culminating in a staff-student game at lunchtime - has become a thing students look forward to every year, she said.

But it's more than fun and games.

Besides introducing students to challenging new skills on the court, the unit also gives able-bodied kids an important glimpse into the perspective of their wheelchair-using counterparts, according to Venos.

"It makes them aware of the challenges people in wheelchairs face on a daily basis," she said. "Like, the ball will roll off the court into the change room, for example, and the wheelchair won't fit into the change room."

Did you know? Fast facts

- In some countries, like Canada, Australia and England, non-disabled athletes can compete in wheelchair basketball alongside other athletes on mixed teams.

- Each player is assigned a classification (from 1 to 4.5) based on their functional ability, with a player with the highest disability classified as a 1 and a non-disabled player classified as a 4.5 (or a 5 in Europe).

- During play, the five players on the court may then not exceed a total of 14 points at any one time.

- In Canada, non-disabled athletes can represent their province at a national level but cannot compete internationally.

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