For the love of the game: Rollverines reflect on another successful season

March 19, 2020  //  FOUND IN: Michigan Medicine News,

Today, basketball games were originally scheduled to tip-off across the country as part of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

But even though the games were canceled, Headlines still has your March Madness fix — as the employee newsletter takes a look back at the successful second season of the Michigan Rollverines, Michigan Medicine’s pediatric wheelchair basketball team!

Crisscrossing the region

Over the past few months, the Rollverines — a team made up of players between the ages of 6 and 18 — traveled to Cincinnati, Ohio, Frankfort, Illinois and Grand Rapids, Michigan, to face other youth programs in three different tournaments. All of the teams are part of the junior division of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

“Our games served as great opportunities to teach teamwork and the value of working together,” said Daniel Ellman, a communication specialist at Michigan Medicine and head coach of the Rollverines. “But even more importantly, they were chances for our kids to spend time and compete against hundreds of athletes who they can relate to.”

That’s the basis for the program, which gives players an outlet to spend time each week with their peers.

“Often, kids with disabilities may only have one or two friends like them in their school,” Ellman said. “But when they come to practice, everyone is in the same boat and understands each other. It’s the perfect way to make life-long friendships.”

Open to all

The program, one of multiple adaptive sports provided by the University of Michigan Adaptive and Inclusive Sports Experience (UMAISE), is open to individuals of all ability levels.

“We accept any child who has some sort of disability that prevents them from playing able-bodied basketball,” said Meghan Veiga, a recreational therapist, Rollverines program coordinator and board member of UMAISE. 

Some players were born with Spina bifida, one of the most common birth defects. Others have cerebral palsy or limb differences.

While not all of them use wheelchairs full-time, each player gets to use a sports chair of their own thanks to a generous donation made by Dance Marathon at U-M in 2018.

“We really work to make sure all kids can get out of this program exactly what they need,” Veiga said.

That’s why the team offers two different levels of play — the recreational level, which meets once a week for practices, and the competition level, which has a longer practice each week, along with traveling to tournaments. All practices take place at Peace Lutheran Church in Ann Arbor, which donates gym space to the program.

Serving families

In addition to the players, parents and siblings get a lot of out of the program, as well. The weekly practices serve as an informal support group, where parents can discuss health issues, doctor’s visits or other topics that other parents at their children’s school may not understand.

And siblings of players have forged friendships that they carry with them through long weekends at tournaments.

For a program that began with a single basketball clinic a little more than two years ago, the growth of the Rollverines has been exciting for all to see.

“We’re thrilled with the direction our program is headed,” Veiga said. “Our kids have worked so hard to improve their skills without losing sight of the No. 1 goal — having fun. We can’t wait to see what lies ahead.”

Want to see what Rollverines players love most about playing basketball? Check out their answers in the video above — and look through photos from this season’s tournaments in the gallery below!

Finally, do you know a child who would be interested in joining the Rollverines? Contact Veiga at mveiga@med.umich.edu.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

RELATED STORIES