Wheelchair Basketball Tournament Is About More Than Just Who Win - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Wheelchair Basketball Tournament Is About More Than Just Who Wins

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SPOKANE, Wash. – It is a sport with driven athletes and a lot of competition, but it is not one that gets a lot of attention. Although some may not have heard of about it, it is one that is changing lives and helping kids get into college. The sport is wheelchair basketball and this weekend, dozens of athletes are competing in the West Coast Conference Championship held in Spokane, for a spot in the sweet 16 at National's in Kentucky.

“We do have quite a few teams here in the area, but it needs to be more,” said ParaSport Spokane Executive Director Teresa Skinner. “We probably have enough athletes, potential athletes, to field about ten teams, it's just the word doesn't get out.”

Teresa Skinner started ParaSport of Spokane after seeing how much of an impact playing a sport can have on someone’s life.

“It makes an incredible difference,” Skinner said. “All of us have access to be able to play sports at anytime. We can choose whatever we want to do. We can start playing a sport at two-years-old, but if you're a child or adult with a disability and your community doesn't have a program then you're kind of out of luck.”

Watching the athletes race across the court, shoot hoops, and cheer each other on, it is easy to see why being part of a team can make such a big difference.

“It's really important and the changes that we see in kids, especially kids, even from one weekend from being around a huge tournament like this, or traveling, it's unbelievable the change that occurs in these guys' lives,” Skinner said.

“I like the team part of it,” said athlete Mikila Salazar. “I just like having others there to support you and I like the feel of that.”

Mikila Salazar has been playing for nine years and hopes her team will clinch the top spot at nationals this year.

“There's a lot of competition,” Salazar said. “Arizona, a lot of them are pretty good, so it's whoever, I don't know, plays the best game I guess.”

She is now a senior and no matter how the tournament turns out, she plans to continue playing in college.

“I got into the University of Alabama and I applied for University of Texas and I’ve been talking to the coach over there, so if I get in I'll probably go and play,” Salazar said.

Twelve colleges now offer scholarships for wheelchair basketball, allowing athletes, like Mikila, a way to pay for school and a chance to continue doing what they love.

“It kind of changes their perspective or the way people feel sometimes about their disability,” Skinner said. “They think, oh what am I going to do? Well, now you can play a sport, you can go to college, you can get a scholarship for the sport, it's awesome.”

“It was really good for me, so even like disability or not, it's really cool to watch and cool to be a part of,” Salazar said.

ParaSport of Spokane always needs volunteers, coaches, and even more athletes if you know someone who wants to play. The championship game will be Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at Westwood Middle School. For more information visit: www.paraspokane.org

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