By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN The HLWW Middle School gym was “rocking and rolling” April 24, with a wheelchair basketball tournament that raised $800 for the Rolling Timberwolves.
Howard Lake native Matt Dalbec joined the Rolling Timberwolves wheelchair basketball team last fall.
He has been in a wheelchair since he was injured in a car accident four years ago.
“After my accident, I didn’t think there was much to do out here,” he said.
The Rolling Timberwolves has given Dalbec the opportunity to make friends with other people who are in wheelchairs and sharpen his basketball skills.
Dalbec organized the tournament to raise money for the team’s travel budget.
Other than the Rolling Timberwolves, most of the people who participated in the tournament are not handicapped, and had never played wheelchair basketball.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Howard Lake resident Justin Niesen said. He was part of the “Roller Boyz” team, sponsored by Creations Salon and Tanning in Waverly.
At first, players said it felt a little strange dribbling the ball down the court using a wheelchair, and the net seemed a lot higher up.
“After the first game, I think everybody got the hang of it,” Niesen said. “The rules are the same as regular basketball, which made it really fun.”
Local entities that sponsored the five teams for the tournament included Uptown Bar and Grill in Waverly, AZZ Galvanizing in Winsted, the Waverly Fire Department, and Creations Salon and Tanning in Waverly.
The teams had t-shirts made, and have even sold some extra ones, according to Niesen.
“I’ve seen four or five people around town wearing them,” he said.
Dalbec said he plans to make the fundraising tournament an annual event, complete with concessions, giveaways, and prizes for the winning teams.
“Next year, I’m going to shoot for 16 teams, and try to make a weekend out of it,” he said.
The Rolling Timberwolves is sponsored by the Minnesota Timberwolves, so Dalbec said he might also try to get some jerseys to give away.
This year, the entrance fee for a team was $200, and there was no limit to the number of players on a team. The fee paid for the gym rental and other costs, and all proceeds went to the Rolling Timberwolves’ travel budget.
“Courage Center supplied all the wheelchairs,” Dalbec said.
Courage Center specializes in rehabilitation services for people with brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, stroke, chronic pain, autism, or disabilities experienced since birth.
Courage Center in Golden Valley is also the site where Dalbec’s team practices each week.
Being involved in wheelchair basketball has been very enjoyable for Dalbec.
“It’s made my life so much better,” he said.
He found out about the team during the Fourth of July celebration in Delano last summer, when he met Kurt Greniger.
Greniger plays on the Rolling Timberwolves and the Rolling Twins.
“It was totally by chance that I got involved in it,” Dalbec said.
Now, Dalbec has discovered numerous sports he’d like to try.
“There’s all kinds of things,” he said. The Courage Center offers sports like quad rugby, adaptive golf, power soccer, hand cycling, and more.
“One guy on my team plays sled hockey,” Dalbec said. “I might try it next year.”
Dalbec said he hopes his annual wheelchair basketball fundraiser will help bring awareness about wheelchair activities to the area.
The Rolling Timberwolves travel all over the United States to compete, and they often pay for the travel costs themselves, according to travel coordinator Charles Clausen.
“Most years we would probably spend about $5,000 to $6,000 on hotel rooms,” Clausen noted. “Air fares, if we make two trips per year, would be about $4,000 to $6,000, depending on how many players travel. So, you can see that we have a need for money.”
This year, the Rolling Timberwolves played in Chicago and Pittsburg, KS. The team also participated in the national tournament in Denver, CO.
“In Denver, we played four games and went 1-3, ending up in 14th place,” Clausen noted. “We were seeded 16th at the tournament, so we did better than our seeding.”
Niesen said he participated in the fundraising tournament because it was for a good cause, but it was also a unique, fun experience.
“It’s definitely one of those things you don’t just try once,” he said. “Next year, I know it’s going to be big.”