The Charlotte Rollin' Hornets 'Teamship' Is Strong on and off the Court
Competition, coaching and community are forever wins for this wheelchair basketball team.
Wheelchair basketball provides a forever family.
Annie Beth Donahue
The dull thud of metal hitting metal rings out. It occasionally punctuates between shouts and the hollow smacking sound of a basketball against the gym floor. The Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets are at Monday practice.
Our family has been part of The Charlotte Rollin' Hornets wheelchair basketball community for the past nine years. Adaptive sports practices and tournaments have been a regular part of our life and shaped who we are in more ways than we ever originally imagined.
The Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets are a competitive team. The prep team won first place in the nation last year, and the prep and varsity teams consistently end the season in the top 10. Parents come into the program thinking they’re providing a sport for their kids — something they can’t get from their school system or local recreation or church league — but once they’ve spent some time with the other parents and players, they realize wheelchair basketball is more than practice and games.
Coach Mike Godsey stands at the end of the court running drills under a goal that stands 8-feet tall. Godsey is one of the founding members of Abilities Unlimited of the Carolinas, the nonprofit behind The Rollin’ Hornets, the head coach of the Prep Team and the father of an original team member. If you ask him, the mission of the Rollin’ Hornets is to promote independence for both children and adults with physical disabilities and provide opportunities to pursue active, healthy lifestyles in adaptive sports. Independence is important, but that independence allows his players to bring their talents together with the rallying cry of “teamship!”
Teamship is a word Godsey coined to mean a combination of teamwork and sportsmanship. He coaches to win. (We are a competitive team, after all.) More importantly, however, he coaches to shape each child into the best person they can be. Instruction stays positive. Children and adults speak with respect within the program and to members of other teams. And “better together” is practiced on the court as well as off.
The Mom Squad
Parents sit along the edge of the practice gym at Providence Presbyterian Church. They watch their kids practice between lowered conversations about medical procedures, and laugh over things that no one but other families with special health care needs would find funny. Affectionately dubbed “The Mom Squad,” this group of moms also contains a few dads, grandparents and other caregivers. Automatic membership in The Mom Squad is a unique element of being part of the wheelchair basketball team.
Sure, parents expect to make some friends when their children join a group. Maybe they’ll end up talking at games or they’ll work together to throw a potluck for end-of-season. Parents don’t expect to become part of a community that functions as a family. Yet here they are. Often parents end up texting each other from hospital rooms, while preparing for IEP meetings, or when looking for a new family van. They communicate about everything important. Sometimes even basketball.
At 5:15 p.m., the prep players and their families start to pack up as varsity practice begins. Many of the varsity players have already been there for over an hour helping to sharpen the skills of the younger players as they work out together. Later that night, after varsity is done, the adults take their spin in the gym. Some of them, too, will have arrived early to mentor the teens.
While wheelchair basketball players age up, they never age out. It’s a forever family. Some move away to play on college teams or participate in the Paralympics. But even then, they stop by a game during Nationals to see their old home team. This culture of permanence is a gift to families with special health care needs. With the potential for instability right below the surface in many other areas of life, wheelchair basketball never changes.
Sometimes kids have to take a break from the team for medical reasons. They may miss out on a season of competition and coaching, but the community won’t let them go. Teammates Facetime each other, and the Mom Squad texts encouragement just waiting until the family can be united again.
Annie Beth Donahue is a health care writer and consultant that lives in the Charlotte area with her husband and four kids. You can contact Annie Beth at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @anniebdonahue
For support and to make more connections within the Charlotte area, consider joining this private Facebook group Special Friends Connection - Charlotte Area.