By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator
Open to both athletes with physical disabilities and able-bodied athletes, wheelchair basketball brings together athletes of all abilities to compete on the court.
Wheelchair Basketball in PEI
“[We’re] very excited that we’re putting together a team for the 2023 Canada Winter Games. We’ve managed to set aside some extra practice time and some extra cross training for our high performance teams. They’re excited to get out there and compete at this level because, as you know, it’s been more than a couple years,” said Peter Tonge, Executive Director of the Manitoba Wheelchair Sports Association (MWSA).
Head Coach Jarrett Yaworksi, who has been with the program for about eight years, is working with the provincial program athletes to build Team Toba.
The Journey to Games
Games may seem far away, but it comes quick and the months ahead will be packed with competitions and training — including some that will take the athletes to different spots around the globe.
Jarrett said one of the benchmarks for their progress toward Canada Games will be the Junior National Championships in PEI this June.
“Our committed core of seven athletes are quite focused on a medal performance,” said Jarrett.
Some of the athletes are also connected to the national Next Gen program for both men and women’s wheelchair basketball.
“We’ve been able to get to a few competitions this year in what’s called CWBL, the Canadian Wheelchair Basketball League play, as well as a warm-up tournament with the western provinces back in the winter,” said Jarrett.
Plus, three athletes who are currently on the men’s national U23 team will be traveling to Phuket, Thailand, to represent Canada at the World Championship in September.
Training On And Off Court
During the training season, the athletes will typically be on the court three times a week, with some inter-provincial training with Saskatchewan.
Outside of court time, some athletes will be utilizing strength and conditioning services with Sport Manitoba Performance and will have access to the Canadian Sport Centre Manitoba (CSCM) program at the University of Manitoba, too.
“We have one particular athlete who trains full time in Toronto with Wheelchair Canada’s national academy. He’s on court up to five times a week with the senior men [and] senior women athletes,” said Jarrett.
In the end, each athlete has a different approach leading up to Canada Games aside from assigned on-court training. That will be all brought together into one strong and dynamic team.
And heading into the next season, Jarrett hopes to tap into the mental skills training for those inevitable moments when sport isn’t just physical, but also mental.
The Canada Games are a unique and memorable multi-sport experience that bring together athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers, and spectators from all across the country.
If there’s a piece of advice Peter would give to the athletes, it really boils down to having fun.
“We have to remember that yes, we’re competing and we’re doing things at a competitive level, but what keeps young people involved in sport, what keeps everyone involved in sport, is having fun,” said Peter. “Yes they’re working hard in their training and they’re going to make their best efforts, but I hope they come out of the experience with the camaraderie and being with other athletes and having fun.”
Jarrett adds if he could narrow it down, it would be to remember that nothing comes easy, and that some things will go beyond the court.
“Trust the process and the work you put in will lend itself to the rest of your life, and not just a moment of sport performance at this stage of your life. Trust the process and commit.”
And of course, it doesn’t hurt to take in the environment and celebrate the achievement of competing at the Canada Winter Games.
Some of Jarrett’s favorite memories from past Games are connecting as a team during all the practicing, playing, and enjoying the opening and closing ceremonies.
“The time together with your athletes for 10 days — it just creates this buffet of sporadic moments that will always stay in your heart,” said Jarrett.
The National Spotlight
Showcasing wheelchair basketball at the national level can have a big impact.
“It certainly raises attention to the sport,” said Peter. “It raises attention to the accomplishments of our athletes. It lets the community and parents and families know what’s available out there.”
And Jarrett said it’s not just helpful locally, but for the sport coast-to-coast.
“Early on in my adventures with basketball, I learned very quickly the importance of how the sport values community and support from one province to the next. From one club to the next. And having the opportunity to have some spotlight, especially for athletes with disabilities, to be seen amongst their able-bodied peers in a multi-sport environment, in my experience, tends to bring quite a wow factor to those who are spectating and have never had the opportunity to be exposed to wheelchair basketball. “
Plus, it’s an opportunity for more people to learn about the game.
Getting to Know The Sport
In wheelchair basketball, athletes are classified between 0.5 to 4.5, based on the type of disability they have, and a team may not have more than 14 points on the court at any given time.
One thing that Jarrett said is important to demystify, is that the wheelchair is sport equipment, and you do not have to be a person who uses a wheelchair everyday to play.
“The wheelchair is to wheelchair basketball like a snowboard is to snowboarding. Like hockey skates are to ice hockey. And having the opportunity on a large, national stage to dispel some of those misunderstandings about, especially para sport and wheelchair basketball, is crucial.”
MWSA: Follow Along And Get Involved
In addition to their high performance team, MWSA also has a recreation wheelchair basketball program, too.
“We have quite a large group with kids as little as about six or seven years old who are learning the game for the first time,” said Peter. “Not everybody is going to be a high performance athlete in wheelchair basketball, but that doesn’t mean they can’t take part and have fun.”
Jarrett said they are always trying to promote accessible sport and raise awareness about para sport and athletes with disabilities.
“People are often always taken aback by the pace of the sports, how dynamic it is, how technical it is. And some say it’s the fastest game of chess that you’ll ever see,” said Jarrett.
His message to Manitobans?
“Come try it out. We’d love to have you out.”
You can keep up with the latest on their journey to PEI by following Wheelchair Basketball Manitoba on Instagram.