Fayette County

Wheelchair basketball tournament is time for competition, friendships

Chicago's Paul Smith took a shot between Austin's Fred Esman, left, and Mike Haynes during Sunday's Division III championship game of the Bluegrass Invitational Wheelchair Basketball Tournament at UK's Seaton Center. Defending champ Hill on Wheels, Kentucky's lone participant, exited early.
Chicago's Paul Smith took a shot between Austin's Fred Esman, left, and Mike Haynes during Sunday's Division III championship game of the Bluegrass Invitational Wheelchair Basketball Tournament at UK's Seaton Center. Defending champ Hill on Wheels, Kentucky's lone participant, exited early.

For Brandon Huss of Lexington, it was an opportunity to watch some fast-paced wheelchair basketball for the first time.

For Matthew Aten of Austin, Texas, it was a chance to help his No. 1-seeded Austin Rec'ers in a Sunday tournament championship game against the Chicago Fire.

Unfortunately for Aten, Austin lost 61-57, but the weekend tournament was about more than basketball. It also was a chance for Aten and Huss, buddies since they were students at East Carolina University, to get together for the first time in a couple of years.

"That was a good game," Huss said after Austin lost the Division III championship in the annual Bluegrass Invitational Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Lexington this weekend.

"The thing I appreciate about it is the athleticism. Just think how much harder it is to play when you can't jump," he said.

Aten, a guard for the Rec'ers who saw some action in earlier games in the tournament at the University of Kentucky's Seaton Center, didn't seem to mind that he didn't get to play in Sunday's championship game.

"I'm still learning," he said. "This is a fantastic team and I'm just not at their level yet." Aten, who uses a wheelchair because of a neurological disorder, has been playing wheelchair basketball for four years, but he's in his first year playing for the Austin team.

Although he wasn't on the court in the big game, he still had an important job to do on the sidelines.

"I'm the team mechanic," he said. "Spokes go out. Tires pop."

The tournament, which started Friday, gave Huss and Aten an opportunity to have lunch and dinner together and get caught up on each other's lives.

"We do Facebook and call each other on a regular basis," said Huss, who brought his sons, Taylor, almost 4, and Sawyer, almost 2, to the tournament.

"It's a really well put together tournament," Aten said, adding that Lexington is a very hospitable town.

In all, 18 teams from throughout the country participated in the tournament. That in itself was a major feat because 10 of the teams were in the path of the monster snow and ice storm that hit much of the country last week, tournament director Evelyn Bologna said.

"Some of these guys were buried under 16 inches of snow," she said.

Two championship games were held Sunday. The No. 1-seeded Grand Rapids (Mich.) Pacers defeated the second-ranked Charlottes ville (Va.) Cardinals 54-51 in the Championship Division game.

Last year's Division III winner, Hill on Wheels, sponsored by Lexington's Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, lost two of its three games in this year's tournament, which knocked them out of the division's big game. It was the only Kentucky team to compete this year.

In the first round, the Music City team from Nashville "was hitting everything they put up," said David Hartsek, one of Hill on Wheels' coaches. "Our team wasn't," he said. "Our turnovers were more than usual. ... We did pretty well up to this tournament."

  Comments