Taking a shot at understanding

Richmond County's top-ranking educators stepped from behind their desks Monday to experience what life is like for their wheelchair-bound student athletes.

Many of them had no idea that the school system offers its special needs students a variety of sports, Superintendent Dana Bedden said, so he arranged for the county's Dream Team of wheelchair athletes to compete against school administrators in a basketball game to benefit Richmond County Special Olympics.

It took the 30 or so school leaders strapping themselves into the specially outfitted athletic wheelchairs to understand the challenges the students endure.

At one point, out of reflex, Carol Taylor leaped out of her chair to reach for the basketball during the game held at Westside High School, but the action by the director of educational media and technology drew a technical foul for giving her team an unfair advantage.

Her teammates also learned of the competitiveness of the Dream Team and adaptive sports athletes.

Richmond County Athletic Director George Bailey acted like a human windmill trying to protect the basketball from an aggressive defense.

And on the offensive side, Sally Ann Heath demonstrated the speed and agility of special needs students as she whizzed down the court on a fast break, swung around Sego Middle Principal Ronald Wiggins and sunk a shot in the second half.

"It's a whole lot harder than people think it is," Dr. Wiggins said from the sidelines, winded after a few minutes of play.

He acknowledged that he thought he was athletic until taking the court against the wheelchair athletes.

Carol McCullough, area coordinator for adaptive sports, said few people realize the Dream Team exists, much less the skill and hard work it takes to play adaptive sports

Two members of the team are members of a statewide traveling all-star team.

Ms. McCullough's hope is that Monday's game, the first time administrators competed against her athletes, will raise awareness of adaptive sports and educate the public of what these athletes can do.

For a week, administrators took the court practicing for the game and learning the rules of wheelchair basketball, Ms. McCullough said.

Morgan Road Middle Principal LaMonica Lewis admitted it was a challenge shooting the ball while sitting down, adding that it was a bit scary.

"It's a scary feeling when you shoot and you feel like you're going to fall back," Dr. Lewis said.

Monday's game raised about $500 for Special Olympics.

The school administrators team, which included about 30 members, wore down the seven-member Dream Team to win 12-6.

"They're lucky I wasn't well or they would have lost," Bobby Jones, one of the all-stars, said afterward with a smile.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

ON THE WEB

To see video of Monday's wheelchair basketball game, visit www.augustachronicle.com.