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National wheelchair basketball tournament draws big crowds

Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center.  [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]
Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

Ryder Gibson got a hand in front of a pass while playing basketball with his friends and took off toward the basket.

The 10-year-old, with his blue dyed hair soaked to his forehead with sweat, sank the layup as he spun his chair to high five and laugh with his friends.

“I really love playing basketball,” he said. “I play the point guard and it’s just really fun being out here.”

Hundreds gathered at the Santa Fe Family Life Center over the weekend for a National Wheelchair Basketball Association tournament, featuring youth and adult teams from across the country.

“It’s a privilege for us to get to host such a special event at our facility,” said center director James Timberlake. “To get to give back to a community like this with the specific focus of serving people with disabilities, it’s just a great fit with our mission and something we are very proud of.”

The tournament is one of the first NWBA tournaments hosted in Oklahoma City to feature both adult and youth league games, but it’s a moment and a mission that has been growing for years.

When Margaret Kierl got into coaching wheelchair basketball more than 20 years ago, she had to seek out participants to put a full team together.

As a recreational therapist, she saw the benefits adaptive sports had for those with physical disabilities. But getting the word out was sometimes tough.

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“It was all through word of mouth,” she said. “You’d literally see someone and ask if they’d ever thought about adaptive sports and they’d kinda look at you like you were crazy.”

But with time, adaptive sports blossomed in Oklahoma.

Now Kierl coaches more than a dozen children on her OKC Wheels of Thunder team.

“Just look at the gym here today,” she said on the first day of the tournament as three games ran simultaneously throughout the day on multiple courts. “It’s just keeps growing every year.”

Kierl says the benefits for kids and adults playing adaptive sports like wheelchair basketball are many, but the greatest is the boost in confidence she sees from kids who thought they’d never be able to participate in a sport ever again.

“The biggest benefits are the self esteem boost these kids have,” she said. “They grow tremendously in confidence.”

Tim Eldridge, a board member for the Oklahoma Adaptive Sports Association, was one of those kids.

After an accident at 14 left him paralyzed from the waist down, Eldridge said he fell into a deep depression when he thought the loss of his legs also meant the loss of playing his favorite sports again.

He’s since traveled the country playing wheelchair basketball, had his college paid for through wheelchair basketball scholarships and made life-long friendships.

“I really believe in the power of this because I feel like it’s saved my life,” Eldridge said. “It means the world to me to see so many out here this weekend because this is the next generation.

“I think these sports are saving lives.”

Related Photos
<strong>KC Kings' Theo Church looks to get a rebound during Saturday's OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament.  [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</strong>

KC Kings' Theo Church looks to get a rebound during Saturday's OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-41efb706a5a5a3127478b64ccd5d03a8.jpg" alt="Photo - KC Kings' Theo Church looks to get a rebound during Saturday's OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" KC Kings' Theo Church looks to get a rebound during Saturday's OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> KC Kings' Theo Church looks to get a rebound during Saturday's OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-bc43ab193109c774d494f3a1f02a4386.jpg" alt="Photo - Wheels of Thunder's Ryder Gibson moves up court Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Wheels of Thunder's Ryder Gibson moves up court Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Wheels of Thunder's Ryder Gibson moves up court Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6a16b97926c40aac02a3e704c73fd476.jpg" alt="Photo - KC Kings' Theo Church moves up court to get a rebound Saturday. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" KC Kings' Theo Church moves up court to get a rebound Saturday. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> KC Kings' Theo Church moves up court to get a rebound Saturday. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ff0b59d794b01f9f49489cac9a25be10.jpg" alt="Photo - Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ee4391f7f1cbf743b1df078a8d859cfe.jpg" alt="Photo - KC Kings' Theo Church looks to get a rebound during Saturday's OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" KC Kings' Theo Church looks to get a rebound during Saturday's OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> KC Kings' Theo Church looks to get a rebound during Saturday's OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-dc99d94a8c6ba721ad39f34a0a818683.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder Jason Walley, right, and Joe Fischer fight for a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder Jason Walley, right, and Joe Fischer fight for a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder Jason Walley, right, and Joe Fischer fight for a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-26e83cb012bc4e22cb961e0a02a833ad.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder's Tim Eldridge shakes hands with teammates during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder's Tim Eldridge shakes hands with teammates during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder's Tim Eldridge shakes hands with teammates during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1f10bdb249a6e5eee1100ab7b8960925.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma Wheels of Thunder's Mark Richey (33) and Paul Nelson fight to get to a ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Oklahoma Wheels of Thunder's Mark Richey (33) and Paul Nelson fight to get to a ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Oklahoma Wheels of Thunder's Mark Richey (33) and Paul Nelson fight to get to a ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b500a9f3847c0b3284a5762e120079ca.jpg" alt="Photo - Wheels of Thunder's Ryder Gibson passes the ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Wheels of Thunder's Ryder Gibson passes the ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Wheels of Thunder's Ryder Gibson passes the ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1c32aaf174b7e0dceb92177bd3602c82.jpg" alt="Photo - Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) shakes hands with a teammate during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) shakes hands with a teammate during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) shakes hands with a teammate during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2370768f2c21d761ad5426bd3743e11f.jpg" alt="Photo - The Austin River City Rec'ers and The Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder shake hands after a game during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="The Austin River City Rec'ers and The Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder shake hands after a game during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>The Austin River City Rec'ers and The Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder shake hands after a game during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6653820f9cc6ba31c23cdef53f9029aa.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder Travis Thrash during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder Travis Thrash during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder Travis Thrash during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e586bf123174cb1e465227236047b8d1.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder's Tim Eldridge shoots during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder's Tim Eldridge shoots during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder's Tim Eldridge shoots during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7e5cdc90633ab4fda3b70e041846288c.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder take a time out during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder take a time out during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Oklahoma City Wheels of Thunder take a time out during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8911c21b9f146f955b2082e80fc4457f.jpg" alt="Photo - Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-93fe1a270e166bcbbb67a489376dfa86.jpg" alt="Photo - Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7c5816de2609d418e8f6335ccf3d5e0f.jpg" alt="Photo - KC Kings Theo Church moves up court to get a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="KC Kings Theo Church moves up court to get a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>KC Kings Theo Church moves up court to get a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8147bbc7fef8a9dee6d5d6089e719e85.jpg" alt="Photo - Wheels of Thunder's Ryder Gibson moves up court during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="Wheels of Thunder's Ryder Gibson moves up court during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Wheels of Thunder's Ryder Gibson moves up court during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2fe2c34b6c1f5dfe39265872f30f71fc.jpg" alt="Photo - KC Kings Theo Church looks to get a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="KC Kings Theo Church looks to get a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>KC Kings Theo Church looks to get a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8e281430eb3c602b1dbb1b3ead66ce4c.jpg" alt="Photo - KC Kings Theo Church looks to get a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]" title="KC Kings Theo Church looks to get a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>KC Kings Theo Church looks to get a rebound during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e895e7d2f839a419c8bb72e6359d0c6e.jpg" alt="Photo - Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Wheels of Thunder player Micheal Tompkins (23) passes the ball Saturday during the OKC Wheels of Thunder WC Basketball Tournament at Santa Fe Family Life Center. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Adam Kemp

Adam Kemp is a news and health reporter for The Oklahoman. He grew up in Oklahoma City before attending Oklahoma State University. Read more ›

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