Student veterans, military members face off in basketball game

By Anna Rozenberg, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 13, 2011

SALINE, Mich. — For a group of veterans and University-affiliated military members, celebrating Veterans Day meant a trip to the basketball court.

On Saturday, the second annual veterans wheelchair basketball game brought veterans, active military members, student veterans, University ROTC students and family and other supporters to Saline High School. This year marked the first game to actually take place during Veterans Day weekend — a trend the organizers plan to continue.

Among the attendees at the event was U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.), a World War II veteran, who said in an address to the crowd that he was rooting for both the Army and Navy team.

In an interview before the game, Glen Ashlock, a veteran and the Navy basketball team captain, explained that the rules of wheelchair basketball are the same as NBA rules with the exception of dribbling — the ball must be dribbled in between every two pushes of the wheelchair. Despite the label as a wheelchair basketball game, only four of the players use wheelchairs in their daily life.

Checking is OK according to Ashlock, “but there’s a line,” he said. Ashlock also explained that basketball wheelchairs are engineered differently than regular wheelchairs. Basketball wheelchairs have wider angled wheels and metal bars on the bottom that help protect players’ legs and feet.

While the Navy team had momentum in the beginning — scoring three times in the first three minutes — the Army team put up a fight to make it a close game. The Navy ended up winning by a mere two points with a final score of 36-34.

Engineering freshman Jim Rasche, a U.S. Navy veteran, said he rested up in preparation for the game. He added that learning how to play basketball in a wheelchair is like “learning to walk again.” Rasche attributed the Navy’s lead in the beginning of the game to good shooting and luck and said he had no expectations for the outcome of the game.

“The main point is it’s all about honoring and bringing attention to veterans,” Rasche said.

Army basketball team captain Jerry Sarasin, also a veteran, has played wheelchair basketball for the last 20 years and said he’s gotten good at the game.

“For the first time we’ve ever played together, (we’re) really good,” Sarasin said of the team.

While Sarasin was involved in many of the rough wheelchair collisions on the court, he said the event was more about promoting awareness and having fun than anything else.

“If it wasn’t for the veterans, there wouldn’t be wheelchair basketball,” Sarasin said.

Event coordinator Gerald Hoff, a University insurance verification representative, said the event is popular among student veterans.

“Student veterans met with me after last year’s game and asked that if I could please have another Army-Navy game,” Hoff said.

Hoff organized the event with the help of volunteers, including members of the University service group Circle K, who passed out free snacks and drinks during the event. Hoff said he hopes to move the event to Crisler Arena in the future.