Josh Brewer faked right and rolled left – clearing just enough room to throw his defender off balance – then launched the ball 12 feet from the basket in a perfect arc.
Nothing but net.
In his first game as competitive wheelchair athlete, Josh was contributing to a winning effort on an asphalt court in downtown Spokane. Some fans took note of the point margin, but most who gathered at Hoopfest last Saturday morning understood the real victory went far beyond the final score.
|Wheelchair athletes took to the blacktop last weekend as part of the 20th annual Hoopfest competition in downtown Spokane. The junior wheelchair division included participants from Central Valley High School, East Valley High School and Bowdish Middle School.
Photo by: Craig Howard
Less than three years ago, few would have given Josh a chance to be playing on a team at the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament, let alone winning a championship in the junior wheelchair division. At 10, Josh was living in Ethiopia when a train accident claimed his right arm and both of his legs above the knee.
Just over a year ago, Matthew and Laura Brewer of Spokane Valley adopted Josh into their family. A year earlier, the couple had brought in two infants born to mothers with a history of methamphetamine use.
Laura, who works for a local adoption agency called Kingdom Kids, said Josh prepared for last weekend’s competition by practicing diligently on the neighborhood hoop.
“He said he want to be the Michael Jordan of wheelchair basketball,” Laura said.
Josh and his teammates – Austan Pierce and Casey Zeigler – took the title in their bracket over the weekend. Josh said the support of Pierce and Zeigler made all the difference.
“I wasn’t sure I could do anything, but I did better than I thought,” Josh said. “Even when I missed, they would say, ‘Good shot.’ It made me want to keep trying.”
Zeigler said he was impressed with his new teammate.
“I was pretty amazed – he’s a real trooper,” he said.
Josh will be a seventh grader at Bowdish Middle School in the fall. In addition to basketball, he enjoys swimming at the Valley YMCA and taking his skateboard to the adjoining skate park. During the college basketball season, he roots ardently for Gonzaga.
“He’s a sports fanatic,” said Josh’s dad, Matthew.
Josh is part of a local athletic club called Team St. Luke’s comprised of area residents with physical challenges. The team originated in 1995 when an occupational therapist named Teresa Skinner helped form a wheelchair rugby squad called “The Dukes of St. Luke’s.” Since then, Team St. Luke’s has represented Spokane at dozens of national and international competitions and was integral to the start of a junior wheelchair division at Hoopfest in 2001.
“Teresa is such a great coach and mentor,” said Matthew. “She helps them go beyond what they think they can do.”
Skinner said one of the main priorities of the program is to concentrate on achieving potential – not dwelling on the disability.
“They’ll never learn to problem solve if they don’t have that opportunity,” she said.
Just over a year ago, Austin Pruitt wasn’t interested in turning out for wheelchair sports. These days, the sophomore at Central Valley High School is the national record holder for his age bracket in a handful of track events.
Austin’s parents, Troy and Melissa, said the support and encouragement of coaches at Team St. Luke’s and CVHS have made the difference.
“Austin’s gone from a child with a disability to an athlete who is excelling in competitive sports,” Melissa said. “They’ve made him feel part of a team.”
Austin’s team finished first in the consolation bracket at Hoopfest. He will now turn his attention to training for the U.S. Junior Wheechair Games in St. Louis scheduled for the last week in July. If he continues on his current pace, his coaches say the 2012 Paralympics in London are a legitimate possibility.
Pruitt, Pierce, Zeigler and Amber Weber, a sophomore at Central Valley, were part of a Team St. Luke’s junior basketball team that finished seventh in the national tournament last season. The campaign starts in March and runs through October. Pierce said the emphasis on teamwork – whether at Hoopfest or during the regular season – is a key to success.
“When we play as a team and work together, we can compete with anyone,” he said.
A trio of St. Luke’s athletes – Weber, Pruitt and Emily Owens – all competed for Central Valley at the state 4A track and field championships last month in Tacoma. Owens, who participated in her third Hoopfest last weekend – said she appreciates coaches and teammates who understand wheelchair competitors deserve the same respect as able-bodied athletes.
“It’s no different whether you’re pushing with your arms or running with your legs,” Owens said.
Megan Scott, a sophomore who participates in track at East Valley High School and played in Hoopfest last Saturday, said she appreciates the camaraderie of her friends with Team St. Luke’s.
“I’m around people who know what I’m going through,” she said.
Back at home in Spokane Valley earlier this week, Josh Brewer was still basking in the glow of a Hoopfest title. The bold-faced letters on his winning T-shirt summed the achievements of each wheelchair athlete over the weekend – nothing short of “champions.”