Tampa Bay Strong Dogs use wheelchairs to put new spin on basketball for USF students

This story was originally posted in the Digital Bullpen.
The Tampa Bay Strong Dogs wheelchair basketball team allowed USF students to experience playing the game from a new perspective.

The team, which is one of about 200 that compete in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, held an exhibition Sept. 27 in the USF Campus Recreation Center to promote disability awareness.

Several USF students went to Campus Rec to watch the team warm up with three-pointer and layup drills. When practice was over, some students joined the Strong Dogs on the court using spare wheelchairs provided by the team.

“I loved being able to actually go out there and play with them,” said Christine Miller, a USF student and Resident Adviser in the Andros campus dorm. “It definitely gave me a new perspective on people in wheelchairs. The experience was really awesome and inspiring.”

When not traveling, the Strong Dogs play at the All People’s Life Center in Tampa. The coed team, coached by Wayne Bozeman and Christina Garcia, is comprised of players ranging from wounded veterans to those born with birth defects.

Ronald Richardson, whose leg was amputated in 1993, has played with the team since it was created in 2008. He plays several other wheelchair sports, but said basketball is his first love. Richardson said finals give him a thrill.

“It’s a great feeling to know that if we train, we can do this and make it to the playoffs,” Richardson said. “We went to the playoffs the last two years in Denver, Colo., and that was awesome. It’s awesome just to go some place outside of Tampa. That’s one of the things about wheelchair sports: We are getting to see America in situations where we ordinarily wouldn’t.”

But for Garcia, the games aren’t the only thrill.

Garcia began volunteering at the All People’s Life Center when her younger brother, who has cerebral palsy, began attending its after-school programs.

She was working for the facility and Bozeman when the team was formed.

“People with physical disabilities have always been a part of my life,” Garcia said. “Plus, it’s fun and I love sports. It’s just a good group of guys having fun and playing ball.”

Richardson said the players provide constant inspiration.

“One player was born with mostly no hands,” he said, “but boy, can she still shoot.”