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April 28. 2013 7:16PM

Wheelchair basketball game raises funds and awareness for Granite State Independent Living


Crotched Mountain's Matthew Crouthamel strips the ball from GSIL's Justin Barnard. (JAY REITER/UNION LEADER)

It was a fundraiser for a great cause, but players were still in it to win at Saturday's Hoops on Wheels, the second annual wheelchair basketball tournament to benefit Granite State Independent Living (GSIL).

Teams from 20 local companies and organizations battled it out in single-elimination rounds at Pembroke Academy and Three Rivers School to support GSIL, a state-wide non-profit agency that provides a broad range of services to support independent living for seniors and people with disabilities

For the second year in a row, it came down to a final match between CCA Global and Granite Investments Advisers in Concord. And once again, CCA Global claimed another championship.

For most players, and their families and friends who come to cheer them on, Hoops on Wheels is their first glimpse of what life is like from the seat of a wheelchair.

"We want people to say, 'Wow, we are doing this for a half an hour, and some people do it all the time,'" said Leslie Ari, GSIL's director of development. "Then, people begin to see people in wheelchairs not with a disability, but with another ability."

Dave Beckwith, a player for one of two teams sponsored by Subway, said he had never used a wheelchair before, never mind trying to rebound, pass and sink shots from one.

"It was a lot of fun and we would definitely do it again," he said. "It really gives us an appreciation of what wheelchair-bound people face."

Darcy Anderson, who was back for a second year playing on a team sponsored by Associated Grocers of New England's Community Connection Program, also said she appreciated the awareness the event generated.

"For me, I was blown away at how different it was," she said. "You want to use your legs, but you can't."

Debbie Krider, chief operating officer for GSIL, said the tournament offers insight that can change minds and opinions.

"It breaks down the stigma and encourages people to get to know people who use a wheelchair," she said.

Encouraging those connections and relationships is part of GSIL's mission of fostering independent living by providing transportation, job training and placement, home health care, home modifications, peer support and other support services.

"The technologies and services that are available now allow people with disabilities to do so much more," said Krider, who added that the advantages to independent living benefit everyone.

"We're a great deal for the state, and nine out of ten people prefer to remain in their homes," said Krider.

Still, independent living for seniors and people with disabilities works best when neighbors and communities are on board, and Hoops on Wheels is one way to get the word out.

"It's a great event to raise public awareness, we all need to have a little more patience and understanding," said Fuat Ari, Leslie Ari's husband who was recruited to play in the tournament.

It didn't seem to take much arm twisting.

"The games are a lot of fun, there's a lot of camaraderie," said Fuat Ari. "Anyone and everyone can participate. Everyone is equal in that chair."

Karen Johnson, a behavioral specialist for Pembroke's Bridges Program for at-risk kids, was back for a second year with the Bridge Builders team, which has developed some smooth maneuvers skills.

"It's a blast," said Johnson. "We plan to be here every year."

btaormina@newstote.com


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