Cuyamaca hosts annual wheelchair basketball game

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Cuyamaca College’s gym was filled with all kinds of talent on Oct. 25, as the men’s basketball team scrimmaged with the San Diego Silverbacks, a wheelchair basketball team.

As students and community members nested in the bleachers, Cuyamaca’s able-bodied basketball players took turns in wheelchairs against the accomplished San Diego team. The teams were mixed to have a few Silverbacks on each side to teach the Coyotes how to dribble, pass and recover the ball from their seats.

Cuyamaca College’s gym was filled with all kinds of talent on Oct. 25, as the men’s basketball team scrimmaged with the San Diego Silverbacks, a wheelchair basketball team.

As students and community members nested in the bleachers, Cuyamaca’s able-bodied basketball players took turns in wheelchairs against the accomplished San Diego team. The teams were mixed to have a few Silverbacks on each side to teach the Coyotes how to dribble, pass and recover the ball from their seats.

“Our basketball team, they can walk, they can shoot, but once they play in a wheelchair, they see how it’s actually challenging,” said Alexis Pliego, one of the event coordinators and the student engagement embassador.

Pliego, an administration of justice student at both Cuyamaca and Grossmont College, said the event took six months to plan, but that it is a highlight of the year and something special to be a part of.

“This is important to help people see that people with disabilities are part of our community,” he said.

Many hands went into putting on the event, including the Associated Student Government, Disabled Student Programs and Services, the Cuyamaca Athletic Department, Club ABLED and Adaptive Sports.

The College Hour event was not just an awareness campaign, it was a competitive game and kept viewers fringed with excitement.

Silverback player Manuel Fernandez, a computer engineering student at Grossmont, said his team emanates strength.

“Our team is all about family,” he said. “We’re called the silver back gorillas, known to be in a pack protecting each other. Some think our wheelchair team is to be taken lightly, but no, we come out as a family.”

Fernandez has been playing wheelchair basketball for 17 years, though this is his first year with the Division II team. These events are great to be a part of, he said, because they spotlight an often overlooked faction of the community.

“Honestly, I love it,” he said. “Not many people know about all the disabilities out there. I know for myself, not many people knew what kind of disability I had. So traveling and telling people how it is, it’s an eye-opener.”

Cuyamaca biology student and basketball player Calvin Harris said this is his second year participating in the event.

“I was able to meet a couple of the guys again,” he said. “They’re all nice guys, they have a lot of talent. They have a lot of ability, even though they have disabilities.”

Harris, who took a spill in his wheelchair midway through the game, said the match was a unique way to showcase the challenges and the strengths of the community of persons with disabilities. 

“It’s good to have people come out and be more aware of everything and have a fun time doing it,” he said. 

And fun was certainly had. Both teams, though competitive, displayed ameable spirits and the best of friendliness and sportsmanship on the court. Fernandez said he never underestimates his able-bodied competition.

“You can never sleep on somebody,” he said. “You can say, ‘oh, he’s not good’ and the next thing you know he’s dominating. In the sports industry, you’ve just got to play your game.”

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