Basketballers bang and crash in wheelchairs

'This isn't a good-for-you sports, this is all about competition'

MARK HUNTER / Kamloops Daily News
February 7, 2012 01:00 AM

The Kamloops Bulldawgs get reorganized during a timeout during a game against the Vancouver Vintage Cable Cars on Saturday. The teams were playing in a B.C. Wheelchair Basketball Society Division 2 tournament at the Tournament Capital Centre.

At first, Tyler Tingle wanted nothing to do with wheelchair basketball.

But Tingle, like most people who take the time to get to know the sport, grew to love it.

Tingle is now the driving force behind wheelchair basketball in Kamloops. He helped organize a Division 2 tournament at the Tournament Capital Centre on Saturday and Sunday, and coached and played for the host Bulldawgs.

The tournament featured five teams - including squads from the Langley, Vancouver, Kelowna and Tacoma, Wash. - with nine games played over the two days.

This isn't how Tingle figured he would be spending his time 20 years ago, when he was coming to terms with a spinal injury he suffered in a car accident.

"When I got injured . . . everyone was like, 'You should go try wheelchair basketball,' " said Tingle, who has been paralyzed from the mid-chest down since 1989. "I had never played team sports before . . . and I didn't want to go play all the 'cripple sports.' I wanted to stay the same as I was."

Around 1994, he eventually allowed himself to be convinced to play. He's still doing it.

"I came out and thought it was kind of fun," Tingle said. "But I liked that there was some camaraderie with the experienced guys who had been in a chair for a number of years.

"It just happened . . . and now I'm playing and coaching and going to Vancouver to play Division 1 sometimes."

Tingle's notion of wheelchair basketball was the same as a lot of outsiders, but it's actually a physical, competitive sport. There's a lot of contact between the chairs and some feisty maneuvering.

And there's a lot of blocking - players will set picks to take an opposition athlete out of the play, and often continue to interfere until the play ends.

"Stand-up basketball is a non-contact sport, but there's tons of contact - you use your body to block someone's progress up the floor," Tingle said. "The chair becomes an extension of the person, so there's not really the body contact any more, it's all chair."

Avril Harris got into wheelchair basketball in almost the exact opposite fashion that Tingle did. Harris, 21, grew up around the sport as his father, Pat, started the first club in Prince George. Pat

Avril, who is able-bodied, quickly took a liking to wheelchair basketball.

"It's a different experience," said Harris, who played for the Langley Gold Rush on the weekend, but normally plays with Kamloops. "Everyone's like a family - even people from Ontario, when you see them, they're so happy to see you."

Each team is allowed to have able-bodied players, but there is a limit to how many can be on the floor at one time.

Each player is given a rating based on his or her disability. A fully-able player is given a rating of 4.5, while a player like Tingle, who only has the use of everything above his armpits, is a 1.

In a Division 2 game, which is for beginners, the total value of the five players on the floor cannot exceed 17 - the number gets lower as the level of competition increases.

"Because of the lack of people in Kamloops who play wheelchair basketball, half of our team is able-bodied," said Tingle, whose Bulldawgs play in three tournaments each year. "They might have a connection with a friend and they both came out . . . but it's kind of unique that this is a mixed sport."

There really isn't a single thing about the sport that Tingle doesn't enjoy.

"This is a sport, like any other sport. This isn't a 'good for you' sport, this is all about competition," he said.

"It's also a really good camaraderie sport. When we play Kelowna, we want to beat them, but at the end of the game, we'll all sit down and have a beer together, and it's a good time."

© Kamloops Daily News

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