Crisler Center played host to a different kind of basketball game on Sunday.
Instead of the Michigan men’s basketball team, wheelchairs glided up and down the court during the 10th annual Army v. Navy Wheelchair Basketball Game.
The teams are co-ed and made up of experienced wheelchair basketball players, as well as University student veterans, ROTC students, and occasionally, local law enforcement. Sunday’s game ended with a 45-40 Army victory.
Gerald Hoff, the event’s founder and an insurance representative at the University Health System, said the game aims to raise awareness about living with a disability.
“The Wheelchair Basketball game is the only University-sponsored disability related sporting event,” he said. “This event showcases the skills of people with disabilities; it showcases the ability within disability.”
Run entirely by volunteers, the event also featured performances by several student groups along with the game, including the Men’s Glee Club, the Michigan Dance team and the Michigan Cheer Team.
The game is also part of Veterans Week at the University, which includes several panels covering the experiences of veteran as well as appreciation events.
Jerry Sarasin, a long-time wheelchair basketball player and instructor who played for the Army team, said the win had been a long time coming for his team, which had lost in the past few years.
Sarasin added that many characteristics of the game, like pacing, are very similar to a game played by able-bodied teams. He noted that part of the value of hosting this event is also demonstrating that similarity to the University community.
“If more people came out to the games, wheelchair basketball would really grow as a sport, we know this because the sport is huge in places such as Europe,” he said. “There are other colleges that have wheelchair teams, and it’s sad that athletes have to go out of state to play at the collegiate level.”
Kinesiology senior Jon Mendicelli, president of the University’s Student Veterans Association, said he always enjoys playing in the games.
“The real wheelchair basketball players do a great job of getting all of us to play as a team, and making us look good on the court,” he said.
Mendicelli, a Marine Corps veteran, played for the Navy team. He said the game was important for student veterans, especially those with disabilities.
“Disabilities often come with a stigma, but at this game we can focus on the players’ skills instead,” he said.
Engineering sophomore Roy Berg, vice president of the SVA, echoed Mendicelli’s sentiments. Berg, who is also a Marine Corps veteran and played for the Navy team, said the event illustrates the University’s commitment to celebrating diversity.
Overall, Hoff said, the event is growing every year and he hopes continuing it will inspire the University and other schools within the Big Ten to start their own wheelchair athletic leagues.
“We’re bringing together veterans, we’re bringing together people with disabilities, we’re bringing together our student population,” he said.