When The Boy took up wheelchair basketball I did wonder whether the shine would wane in time. It didn’t. He was utterly sucked into that world and it gave his life direction, meaning and achievable goals with real time results he could be proud of and build on.
By the time he turned 14 the Under 15’s regional Junior Squad had a number of major wins under their belt and they were flying high on the wings of their success.
His final year in the 15’s squad netted them yet another Gold medal at the Junior National Championships and it was an amazing match with a final whistle score of 48-43! That kind of score is nothing short of a demon of a game where both squads have played their hearts out and left everything they have on the court, and as far as everyone was concerned there were no losers that day.
However, I need to step back just a couple of years and talk about the one area of his life I have not covered in my posts, The Boy’s education. He attended mainstream school with classroom support and physical assistance for certain needs. This appeared to work quite well for the majority of the time during his early years at the school, but it became blatantly obvious that some of the teachers saw him as a hindrance to their teaching of the rest of the class of able bodied students. One such teacher was his Physical Education Teacher who I shall refer to as Mr Ignorant.
Mr Ignorant had decided that The Boy could not study Sport Science as one of his chosen subjects for his GCSE exam classes due to the fact that he did not do an extracurricular sport that was recognised by the exam board.
Now, the boy was 13 at the time, he was riding high on his Junior National Championship wins and was excelling in his chosen sport of wheelchair basketball at club level, I might add that Wheelchair basketball has it’s own governing body and is widely recognised by every sporting body in the country. It is played continuously at International level and is entered as a main sport in the Paralympics every four years.
I decided to head the burgeoning war cry off at the pass. I was tired of this. I was tired of constantly explaining to EVERY SINGLE ABLE BODIED PERSON in a position of authority over the boy’s health, welfare, education, mental and physical health and progress, that inclusion meant just that, INCLUDED. It did not mean that when the going got tough for the teacher, he could opt out of educating my son!
The conversation was held between three of us, myself, Mr Ignorant, and the Headmaster Mr Don’t blame me, the system is broken. We shall call him Mr Shrug!
Mr Shrug began the conversation by saying how proud the school was of the boy’s recent achievements in his chosen sport of wheelchair basketball. Mr Ignorant looked askance at Mr Shrug and I could see he had not wanted this statement made at all.
I saved them both some time and pointed out that as a school with currently only one disabled student on their books who was a National Champion, and no current National Champions in their able-bodied stock of students, one would have thought they would have been proud to assist the boy as far as they were able in his wish to capitalise on his growing knowledge of sport in general.
He wanted to learn about the body and how it functions through exercise, which muscle groups were in danger of injury through incorrect training practise and how to prevent long term damage by following good practise in mental, physical and dietary health. All of these things were part of the curriculum listed in the Sport Science course he wished to select as his chosen GCSE course. I personally couldn’t see the problem they were having with his placement. Every other student in his year, who had applied for that course had been selected, he was the only one who had been declined. I then asked why Mr Ignorant thought that the exam board would not recognise a nationally and internationally played disability sport? Why he didn’t consider it to be a recognisable extracurricular sport, and why he felt the boy was not good enough to take up the course?
His reply still blows my mind to this day.
Look, I know you think he’s amazing because he can push a wheelchair and bounce a ball at the same time, but it isn’t proper basketball is it? He can’t run, jump and pivot, he can’t shoot from a standing position into a 10 ft net, and the court isn’t as big as a standard basketball court. It’s the soft option so that the disabled fraternity can feel like they are playing the game.
Fucking hell! My head melted. I genuinely saw red mist for the second time in my life and I don’t know how I stayed completely calm and composed and did not kill that ignorant, jumped up, stuffed shirt front on the spot.
Instead I said this. (I was so well behaved that day, I still pat myself on the back!)
I believe you need a lesson sir, so I shall educate you. Wheelchair basketball is the ONLY disability sport which currently runs an inclusive program so that able-bodied people can climb into a chair and play the game alongside their disabled peers. It is one of those rare occasions when a disabled person has the advantage over an able-bodied person.
Wheelchair basketball is played on a standard sized court, with regulation height baskets set at 10 ft. The game is a standard 40 minute game made up of four ten minute quarters. Fouls and time outs are as the able bodied regulation game. It is classed as a non-contact sport as is the able bodied game. Where in that description do you get the impression that this is the soft option?
His reply, well you would say that wouldn’t you?
YES I FUCKING WOULD! It’s the truth!
Mr Shrug feeling like he might have lost control of this meeting decided to step in at this point.
Mr Ignorant, were there any other reasons why the boy was not deemed suitable for your course?
Mr Ignorant smiled slyly and said, yes actually, he wouldn’t be able to take part in class exercise, I expect ALL of my students to perform star jumps, forward rolls, and running on the spot, I also expect them to take part in cross country running and track and field events throughout the course. It’s blatantly obvious that he can’t do that and before you say anything else Mrs S you must understand I did try to find a way for him to come onto the course, I even went on a two week disability awareness educational course myself to learn how I might include him wherever possible. I did this off my own back, and I know everything I need to know to be able to say he couldn’t do it. It’s impossible. I’m sure you will agree if you just step down of your high horse and see sense!
I rounded on him in true warrior mother mode! ‘You went on a two week disability awareness course and now you consider yourself an expert in the field? Well, that certainly tops my 13 years and counting of 24/7 disability awareness education! Perhaps we can simplify matters and clarify just what inclusion means Mr Ignorant.
When one is faced with a student with limited abilities, one must work to find a way that student can still learn from what every other student is doing, no he can’t do star jumps, if he ever achieves that I want video footage because it means a miracle has occurred and he is no longer suffering with a life long disability.
Find a different approach, get inventive, think outside the box. You chose to become an educator, I challenge you to stretch your mind and educate ALL of your students not just the elite few who are able bodied.
I also challenge you and your sports ed. staff to a game of wheelchair basketball. I shall provide the wheelchairs and an opposing team of 10 players who are all 15 or under. 5 bench players and 5 court players. You provide the same only you can have all adults. I suggest the venue be here at the school on the school’s own full sized basketball court complete with regulation height baskets. I shall provide two wheelchair basketball referees who are also able bodied to attend the game. I shall provide the scoring equipment and I will officiate as head table official which is my role in our club and at regional level. The game is to run for the standard 40 minutes and all regulation basketball rules apply. I will bring the wheelchairs tomorrow and you may keep them for two weeks in order to practise. I think it’s time you understand the game that my son excels at sir. The best way to do that is to take part.
Given that you are so clued up on wheelchair basketball, I can see no earthly reason for you to decline the challenge. After all, full grown adults playing against disabled kids under the age of 15 should be a breeze, it will also allow you to prove your point that they are not worthy of inclusion in able bodied sport.’
He accepted the challenge, his face was puce, his manner was aggressive, he was shouting at me for a good ten minutes about how I knew nothing at all about how sport worked and how he would show me that I was living in a fools paradise thinking that disabled kids could possibly beat physically fit and healthy men on a basketball court.
The date and time were set and I left the meeting. I provided the 5 chairs I had promised the following day. Two weeks from then and the game was ON.
Now, after only being involved in this beautiful game for just a few short years, I had learned how to recognise the able from the disabled just by the way they handle a wheelchair. A disabled person moves far and fast with the minimum amount of effort or push and can clear the length of a basketball court in less than 8 seconds working at their top speed of roughly 25 mph. Whereas an able-bodied person leans too far forward and pushes too low down on the wheels to gain either maximum speed or distance. They almost rock their way up a court and it takes a good 20 seconds for them to cover the same distance!
Those teachers were going to receive an education they would never forget.
To be continued…
All photos are courtesy of the Internet