Men or women, impaired or unimpaired, none of it mattered.
McGuirk Arena hosted two events this week for a special group of athletes, including the unified basketball intramural league tournament on Wednesday.
In the tournament’s first year, participants with disabilities shared the court with individuals without. The event was intended to be a learning experience for everyone involved.
Harbor Springs senior Caleb Ross and Mount Pleasant native Mike Betka are two friends that have competed and supported each other during other events like the Special Olympics.
Ross received an award for “the most fired up” and, Betka’s team titled “Dirty Mike and the Boys” won in the finals against Tune Squad, 37-35.
Mike’s father, Barney, and his mother, Chris, said they were thrilled with the support not just from family members of the players, but also from the fans that were in the stands. The Betkas said they hope the tournament will continue to bring students together at Central Michigan in the future.
“We always give a lot of support for Mike, but we cheered for everyone because we know people on each side,” Barney said.
Belding senior Zach Watts said this was his first time playing alongside athletes who are impaired, though he would like to participate again in the future.
“It’s been a great experience,” Watts said. “It’s still basketball, but it puts a whole different perspective on the game.”
Able-bodied CMU students sat alongside students with disabilities in the intramural wheelchair basketball tournament Tuesday.
This event debuted last semester and had a surprising amount of participants, said Jenison senior Marjorie Wallington, the program coordinator. She said eight teams were expected and 16 registered.
“It definitely helps that all of this is free,” Wallignton said. “Our main goal is to increase participation.”
In order to try to increase knowledge around campus and get students involved, coordinators sent out information about the tournament to faculty member’s departments that deal with disabilities, such as the student disability services and physical education staff.
This event was free due to the help from volunteer referees, free court time from CMU athletics, and the donation of 13 wheelchairs from Michigan Sports Unlimited, a nonprofit organization.
As a parks and recreation major, the wheelchair basketball tournament is Wallington’s biggest project. The tournament might include athletes from the surrounding community in the future.
Evan Crank, a member of the winning team, Gator Boys, had experience with wheelchair basketball in high school. His cousin represented Michigan in wheelchair basketball tournaments across the country.
“He is definitely an inspiration to me and their team is really talented,” Crank said.
Schwartz Creek senior Alex Covers also had experience with wheelchair basketball. In high school, he helped organize a fundraiser to support a teacher’s son with muscular dystrophy.
“It was a great experience when I did it in high school and the tournament was free, so I had to come out and play,” Covers said.