CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — When Sylvia Hatchell and the UNC women’s basketball team went to the locker room at halftime of their game against number one Notre Dame, a group of 6 to 13-year-old athletes made sure the crowd stayed rowdy.
“It probably meant more to me slapping their hands than it did to them. Just being able to see them out there enjoying the game of basketball like they do,” said UNC Guard, Stephanie Watts.
As they propel themselves across the court, each of them have different reasons for playing wheel chair basketball.
One of the Bridge 2 Sports athletes, Jillian, said, “Even though we still play the sport a little bit differently, they’re still supporting us and encouraging us.”
“I was born with spinal bifida and I just needed to get active,” said Bridge 2 Sports Assistant Coach Akeem Hassell.
Jillian explained, “Because I have tibial hemimelia, I have a club foot, so I have a shorter tibia and it grows slower.”
Jillian and her teammates showed every Tar Heel fan what Bridge 2 Sports is all about.
“It’s really great to play with people who understand my disability,” said Jillian. “You know, going through the same things.”
“My previous coach always taught me to pay it forward and give back. So I teach the kids all I know about wheelchair basketball,” Akeem said.
The Bridge 2 Sports game only lasted eight minutes but every second likely stay them and with the Tar Heel fans in the crowd for a lifetime.
Bridge 2 Sports coach, Mike Rosenkrantz, said, “It’s just a golden opportunity for the kids to build their self esteem. To go out in front of a large crowd and play, it’s just terrific.”
“If I could send them a message, I’d say, ‘Keep doing what your doing. I hope to inspire you but you guys are the real inspiration because of your passion for the game,'” Watts said.