Wheelchair basketball tournament more than a fun day on the court

Next month, as mostly able-bodied athletes for a day try to maneuver in wheelchairs, bouncing basketballs on the half-court inside the Lycoming College Recreation Center, they will not only compete, they will raise awareness and money for those who struggle daily with physical disabilities.

Among the benefactors of the annual wheelchair basketball tournament’s proceeds this year will be those who can’t afford to install handicapped accessible ramps at their homes, said Renee Sluzalis, tournament organizer.

Sluzalis, who is CEO of Roads to Freedom at the Center for Independent Living, 24 E. Third St., the agency that empowers those with disabilities and is sponsoring the tournament, said far too few who need ramps can afford them in the area.

“A lot of people don’t have the financial means to put a ramp at their home and are not connected to resources of funding streams to do it,” she said. “We get many requests from people that need, but can’t afford ramps and insurance won’t cover the costs or labor to build these ramps.”

An account has been set aside as part of the agency’s new “Ramping Up Life” campaign and part of the proceeds of this year’s basketball tournament will go into the fund, she said.

“There are very few resources to help people with with disabilities obtain ramps for their homes,” Sluzalis said. “Sometimes, people can’t be released from a hospital or nursing facility simply because they can’t access their home without a ramp. It is our mission to break down this barrier.”

The tournament also is an eye-opener for those who watch it and play the games.

“It makes people aware who are without disabilities as to what it is like to use a wheelchair daily and the struggles that come along with having a disability,” Sluzalis said.

Many in Lycoming County and the region use wheelchairs as their means of mobility.

Players in the tournament quickly find out the balance and skill needed to bounce a basketball, shoot and pass it – all while defending and playing offense. The tournament coincides with “March Madness” when the NCAA tournament is under way.

Money is raised through a team registration of $200, and the cost can be divided among the players.

In return for a minimum $35 donation, the center will include the sponsors to be listed on the back of the event shirt worn by the participants.

There is a fee at the door for general admission.

The agency is trying to find corporate, business and individual sponsors leading up to the tournament.

“Our fundraising goal is $10,000,” she said.