Wheels & steals at wheelchair nat’l basketball tourney in south suburbs

    FRANKFURT, Ill. — It’s go time as the North American Wheelchair Basketball Championship Tournament is underway in the south suburbs, where teams across the US and Canada will compete to be victors.

    Paralympian Jake Williams says he has been playing since he was 16-years-old.

    “I got hurt when I was 16 when I got hit by a car when I was riding my bike and I started playing shortly after that and haven’t put the ball down since,” Williams said.

    Williams has played on Teams USA from 2013 until 2021, winning gold in Rio and Tokyo. Although Williams says he didn’t try out this year due to fatigue, he says, ‘never say never.’

    Keith Wallace is the wheelchair basketball league’s executive director.

    “We want wheelchair basketball to be a sport,” Wallace said.

    Speaking with WGN News, Wallace says he drew his inspiration from his grandmother, a single-leg amputee who lost her leg because of diabetes.

    Wallace says the cool thing about the wheelchair basketball league is that able body athletes – someone who has a traumatic brain injury or a single amputee – can get in a chair and play.

    Joshua Smith of the Air Force Wounded Warriors says he just competed in the Invictus Games.

    “We came from the Netherlands about two-and-a-half weeks ago,” Smith said. “So a bunch of us are on a high because we came off of winning a gold medal for Team USA.”

    Smith was injured during survival school training, undergoing two hip replacements. He also deals with ongoing spine issues too.

    “Running, normal sports are out of the question,” Smith said.

    But wheelchair basketball offers the military veteran a competitive outlet. Partaking in the North American Wheelchair Basketball Championship Tournament, the games will be played at the old Lincoln Way North High School in Frankfort through Saturday.

    The eventual champion team will be sporting some hardware of their own and Williams says he expects things will get intense.

    “These guys get really, really competitive,” he said.

    The league’s executive director says he has a goal of his own: having the championship tournament play at Disney World.

    “I’m trying,” Wallace says with a smile. “I’m trying!”

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