BOISE, Idaho — There's a new sports team to watch in Idaho, a National Wheelchair Basketball Association team based in Boise. The Gem State Falcons.
"Basketball is my first love," Jake Simmons, one of the players from Nampa said. "Just being able to come out and get some exercise, and doing something that I enjoy. It's been a lot of fun."
The athletes on this team range in ability, and experience. Some have been in wheelchairs for their whole lives, others were recently injured. The thing they have in common? They are ready to compete. Watching wheelchair basketball is an incredible, high energy experience.
"Those who haven't seen us play ball before, they are like oh man," Simmons said. "We just love being out on the court playing ball."
Elijah Elsberry is also loving being a part of the Falcons.
"Getting to play basketball, hang with each other on the court and off the court, making friends, even making new friends at our out of state tournaments. I love it all," Elsbery said.
Tommy Schrader was born with spina bifida, he's been in a wheelchair since birth. He and his dad Tom moved to the Treasure Valley two years ago, and they decided Idaho needed a national team.
"It's our first year and Idaho's first wheelchair basketball team," Tommy Shroeder said. "I've been playing wheelchair basketball for about 35 years, and my dad and I wanted to create a team here, and we finally got enough players. It's so important to be out there and be active and to be around individuals with that have disabilities as well. You can connect on a different level. You can really do anything that you want, you just have to find different avenues to do it."
So far, the Gem State Falcons have already played in tournaments in Spokane, Sacramento, and Tucson. The team is co-ed, made up of men and women, and they are always looking for more players.
"We're learning as a group, we're growing as a group and we are improving every time we play," Shroeder said. "We travel, we have a great group of guys and women, so come out and join us."
You have the opportunity to see the team in action next month in Boise. The Falcons are hosting the City of Trees invitational at the Salvation Army Gymnasium in Boise on Emerald Street.
"We are hosting a tournament at the Salvation Army in Boise on Feb 18 and 19, and we have teams coming from Spokane, Tucson and Sacramento that will be coming here! The financial aspect is where we could use some help. We're a new team, we are putting in personal money right now, we are hoping to get some donations. That would be great," Shroeder said. "It costs about 35k a year to run a team and be competitive so we do need some help from our community."
The team is looking for donations or sponsorships. In the meantime, Schroeder has big goals for Idaho. He says he's just getting started!
"Eventually it would be great to have multiple teams in Idaho. Right now, since we are a first year team, we are playing in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Division 3, but there's a Division 2 and a Division 1 as well. So we have room to grow. Long term goals? We'd love for Boise State to have a team, because there is a collegiate division," Shroeder said.
"This is year one, I want to be playing for another 30 years, so hopefully eventually I'll be playing in the 31st," he said.
For all of the players on the team, this is about more than just basketball.
"This has been a huge thing for myself personally," Simmons said. "I feel like it's more of a confidence booster for everyone too, just to know what we can do on and off the court. We are showing people what we can do."
The City of Trees Invitational tournament in Boise is February 18 and 19 at the Salvation Army Gymnasium. The address is 9492 W Emerald St. The public is invited to come see teams from our region play.
Another goal of this team is to let people who use wheelchairs know about all the sports that are available here in the Treasure Valley. There is something for everyone. Contact your city to ask about what adaptive sports are offered. The Challenged Athletes Foundation is also a great place to start.
"I'm sure there are plenty of other players out there, that may not know how to get involved not just basketball, but with wheelchair sports in general. There's a lot of resources out there in Idaho," Shroeder said.
For more on the Gem State Falcons, and how to donate to this great cause, check out their Facebook page and website.
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