Sometimes in the heat of the moment during a basketball game, the only thing on a competitor’s mind is winning.
A team will do whatever it takes to have more points than the other team by the time the final buzzer sounds. Such is the whole purpose of the sport, right?
Well, ask a group of young athletes from St. Mark’s parish, Sheepshead Bay, what they think basketball is all about, and you’ll likely get a different answer.
Each Sunday morning from September to March, St. Mark’s hosts its Challenger Basketball Program for players with disabilities. The program began 15 years ago with eight kids but has grown substantially and now includes 42 players on the roster.
“The whole purpose is to bring these kids together and to get them out,” said Jim Bahan, the parish athletic representative at St. Mark’s. “Every time we publicize, we get more kids who weren’t out there doing things, and we bring them in.”
The players have a genuine love of basketball, so they are always eager to play their favorite sport and have fun doing so.
“I love basketball; I love my team,” said participant Jeffrey Resnick. “I like to pass the ball a lot.”
“I have my friends here,” said participant Kaitlyn Rizzo. “They’re like a family to me, and they’re just very supportive.”
The day begins with a 30-minute informal shootaround, where the players of various ages can learn some techniques from their peers and their coaches. The group is then broken up into teams for a full-length game, with the teams rotating so that players can interact on the court and the bench with different teammates each week.
“It doesn’t matter who wins or loses,” said Robert Salberg, one of the program’s head coaches. “They have fun with each other, and they’re amongst their peers. They’re all happy, and I’m happy to be around them.”
While the theme of the day is inclusion and simply having fun, there’s no shortage of a competitive atmosphere during these games.
“They’re as competitive as anybody else, if not more,” Bahan said. “When that score goes up there, they know if they’re winning or if they’re losing.”
All winning and losing aside, the Challenger Program provides the opportunity for these players to be
active in sports and to learn the values of teamwork and sportsmanship.
“When they have the opportunity to play together as a unit, they perform beyond your imagination,” said Barry Resnick, Jeffrey’s father who volunteers to referee the games each week.
“If you were to watch at the beginning of the year and look at those same athletes at the end of the year, you’d be amazed with what they’ve learned, the confidence they’ve developed and the socialization skills. It really makes a huge difference in their lives.”
The program is always open to accepting new members, and registration begins in September. Contact Robert Salberg via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Really the only “challenge” for these athletes week-in and week-out is making sure they had plenty of fun playing the game they love. And when looking at the big picture of sports, giving everyone a fair chance to play – more so than just winning – is what matters most.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.