Local hero thrills fans in wheelchair basketball
TINA PEPLINSKIE firstname.lastname@example.org Sam Graham (centre), of Beachburg, a member of the Ottawa Jazz and Ottawa Royals, moves the ball up the court during a wheelchair basketball demonstration game held at Algonquin College in the Ottawa Valley recently. For more community photos, please visit our website photo gallery at www.thedailyobserver.ca.
When Sam Graham's name was introduced before a recent wheelchair basketball demonstration game at Algonquin College, the roof was nearly blown off the new gymnasium.
Because of the efforts of the first-year general arts and sciences student at Algonquin College in the Ottawa Valley and member of the Ottawa Carleton Wheelchair Sports Association' Ottawa Jazz and Ottawa Royals, the gymnasium was christened with a wheelchair basketball demo game featuring 14 athletes.
To add to the excitement of the contest, particularly for Graham who was playing in front of family and friends, in some cases for the first time, each player was introduced individually and they saved the best for last. When Graham's name was announced, the crowd erupted in a huge cheer.
“The atmosphere was amazing,” the 18-year-old Beachburg native said.
He was thrilled to see so many familiar faces in the crowd, from people he personally invited to the game and others that he didn't have a chance to speak to but came out to show their support when they found out the game was taking place.
“It is pretty amazing to know your community backs you,” Graham added.
Admission to the game was by $5 donation, so when it was all said and done and all the money was counted, Graham couldn't have been happier with the results as the game served as a fundraiser for the teams' trip to Quebec for their league playoffs. The game raised more than $1,000 and covered the cost of the bus to get the teams to and from Sept-Îles, Quebec. Even the people who won the 50/50 draw donated their winnings back to the cause.
During the game, the athletes put on quite a show as they demonstrated their speed, skill, athleticism and strength while manoeuvring around court. There was also an interactive aspect to the game. At half time, members of the crowd were invited to take a spin around the court in a wheelchair, while dribbling a basketball and making their way around a series of pylons. The first person to jump at the opportunity was Walter Spencer, Graham's step grandfather.
“That was pretty comical and I appreciate him putting himself out there like that,” Graham said with a chuckle.
He thanked everyone who attended the game and made it such a success.
Aside from the anticipation of playing in the league finals in Quebec, Graham also got some other thrilling news – he will represent Ontario at the wheelchair basketball Junior East Championships in Charlottetown, PEI from April 19 to 21. He will be one of 15 athletes from Ontario to take part in the three-on-three format tournament, which will also feature teams from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Quebec.
Although he has been involved in the provincial system for a couple of years, he sees this as a good scouting event. He has aspirations of representing Canada at the Canada Games in 2015, and he hopes being carded provincially will go a long way to help him achieve that dream.
Tina Peplinskie is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist