Rancho wheelchair athletes bring hope to hoops

DOWNEY - Six Rancho Wheelchair Sports team members traveled to La Canada Flintridge last Saturday to play a demonstration game against elite athletes from Flintridge Preparatory School, not only to showcase their athletic ability, but also to educate the community on what it's like to live with a disability.It was the second in a series of public outreach efforts throughout the greater Los Angeles area the team is undertaking as Rancho ambassadors. "Part of the goal is to educate the public on different aspects of life that people with disabilities encounter that able-bodied people may take for granted," said Rob Welty, director of wheelchair sports at Rancho. "It's one thing to watch how amazing people with disabilities can be playing sports, but it's another thing to participate in a wheelchair and experience what it's like playing a sport from a truly different position." The Rancho Renegades team included five "Junior" team (ages 12-18) athletes, including Jesus Hernandez, Angel Cardenas, Efrain Preciado, Matt Viole and Paul Angeles. Rancho "Futures" (ages 3-11) athlete Katarina Stankovich also played in the game against high-school aged boys and girls. "All our kids did great, but Futures coach Rick Tirambulo and I am especially proud of Katarina for having the courage and determination to play so fearlessly against athletes nearly twice her age," Rob said. "She carries the spirit of Rancho with her wherever she goes, and we are very proud of her." The young Flintridge Prep athletes climbed into sport wheelchairs to play the game, which was won handily by the kids from Rancho. But the game wasn't really about scoring points. It was about spreading understanding. "Our outreach program is a combination of hands-on experience and competitive fun in which the students learn something new that they otherwise would never have a chance to experience," Rob said. "The sportsmanship and camaraderie on that court was simply magical." As Flintridge Prep athletes literally rolled a mile in the shoes of the Rancho athletes, they were impressed with the ability and class of the visitors from Downey. "Everyone enjoyed the game and the chance to get to experience something new," said Michelle Fellows, who worked with her son and daughter to make the event happen. "All the kids from Rancho and Flintridge Prep had a great time-you could see the smiles, hear the laughter and feel the respect and understanding that was growing throughout the exhibition," said Luis Montes, MD, Rancho's Chief of Pediatrics. Dr. Montes conceived the outreach program as part of the Rancho Pediatrics outreach program. "It's wonderful to see how barriers break down when young people participate in fun activities together," Dr. Montes said. "Some people might think that living with a disability would be very depressing, but our kids are filled with hope and dreams, just like young people everywhere. "I wish to thank the Ladies of Las Floristas, who not only are the lead sponsor for our wheelchair sports program, but also fund many of the most vital activities for our kids." Las Floristas has provided major funding for the children of Rancho for nearly four decades. Other key funding for the Wheelchair Sports program is provided by Coca-Cola and the Rancho Los Amigos Foundation. "We're looking forward to doing more demonstration games to spread our message as far and wide as possible," Rob said. The La Ca?±ada Flintridge event was a huge success, as the kids from Rancho inspired everyone who attended their most meaningful event. Because in the end, it wasn't about hoops, it was about hope.

********** Published: January 12, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 39