For decades, the Triad Trackers Wheelchair Basketball Team has been taking it to the hole.
The Trackers is the only Triad team in the Carolina Wheelchair Basketball Conference, which is part of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Members say the team is about much more than hoops and winning.
“I joined for the camaraderie and the peer contact type stuff,” said Trackers President Daniel Moody, who has been on the team since 2005.
The South Africa native was paralyzed as a college student after a car accident. Moody says he enjoys the “physicality” of the basketball, and his teammates have opened his eyes to waterskiing and other activities.
Wheelchair basketball is similar to the traditional basketball game. Players use specially-designed wheelchairs with inward slanting wheels. The wheelchairs also have bumpers to protect players in the case of an on-court collision and an extra rear wheel that prevents them from falling backward. Many players also strap themselves in to help them stay in the chair and avoid fouls. It can also help with steering, allowing players to use their hips to steer.
There is a fine art to the game. The players must maneuver their wheelchairs while passing, shooting and dribbling – the ball must be dribbled for every two pushes of the wheelchair.
“We have able-bodied guys come to practice once in awhile and they’re surprised just how much it takes to get the chair up and down the floor competitively,” said Michael Lambourne, who has been a Tracker for 14 years.
Lambourne, who lives in Lexington, also lost the use of his legs as a result of a car accident.
When the Triad Trackers was founded in the 1980s, the team was known as the Winston-Salem Smokers, according to Moody. These days, the team practices and plays home games at the Miller Park Community Center and draws players from throughout the Piedmont Triad who range in age from 14 to 43.
The Trackers play in a 10-team division that includes competitors from around the state.
Tamirat Ives-Rublee has been a Tracker since he was a teenager. The Ethiopia native lost his ability to walk as a child to polio. He has never let that setback keep him from sports. In addition to basketball, Ives-Rublee has competed in track and field events, swimming and other sports.
Ives-Rublee said over the 14 years that he has spent on the Triad Trackers squad, he has learned to compete hard but not too hard.
“When I was younger I used to take the game really serious, compete competitively (and) want to win the game,” he said. “Now, the older I get, I just enjoy the game and teach the newcomers.”
While Triad Trackers have had many winning seasons and even some conference titles, for the last couple of seasons, the team has been in a dry spell. The team is 1-9 for the season.
With only eight members on the team, it is difficult to endure the double-header five-on-five games, players say. The team also currently lacks a sideline coach to call out plays. Ives-Rublee tries to coach while he’s playing on the court, but says that’s difficult to do in the heat of the game.
Moody said the team is always open to taking on new players. The team can supply the sports wheelchairs for qualified players. Moody also thinks more crowd support could help the Trackers. Currently, home game crowds are largely made up of players’ family members and friends.
“I’d like people to come out and see it,” said Moody. “I’ve always heard from people who see it for the first time that it’s a lot more physical than they thought it would be.”
The Triad Trackers’ next game is this Saturday at Miller Park Community Center, 400 Leisure Lane, at 1 p.m. Those interested in joining the Trackers or who want more information can call 336-423-1176 or email email@example.com.