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‘People wanted to play together:’ Wauwatosa man creates wheelchair basketball league for all abilities

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Damian Buchman

WAUWATOSA -- Wheelchair basketball is a sport that gives players who don't have the ability to run and jump the opportunity to enjoy the sport. A Wauwatosa man has created a league for all abilities.

"I knew, absolutely in my heart, that people wanted to play together as well. I wasn't the only one, right?" said Damian Buchman, The Ability Center.

Buchman, the founder and CEO of The Ability Center is looking to get everyone on the court. He started the country's first wheelchair basketball league for people of all abilities. It's an idea that grew after a fundraiser offering anyone the chance to play wheelchair basketball at Jefferson Elementary School in Wauwatosa.

"We actually did an auction where we auctioned off the opportunity for parents here, because my children go here to play wheelchair basketball. $25 -- bring you and your child, and coming out of that, people were saying 'we want to play more. We want to play in a league,' so we went and asked Tosa Rec, 'hey, people are saying they want a league. They want to play. Let's give it a shot. Let's see what happens,' and here we are," said Buchman.

That sparked an interest for August Hoppe.

"We won the auction item, so we got to play -- a whole group of us in the gym. That was my first experience. I thought it was great, so when Damian set up the league, I thought it would be a no-brainer," said Hoppe.

Mathew Letizia had a different reason for getting involved. He has a friend who plays wheelchair basketball for Team USA, and the league gives him a chance to learn and play his sport.

"I look forward to playing with him in open gyms and rec," said Letizia.

That's something Buchman was hoping would come from the league.

"He can have the opportunity to play with him, have an idea and play together. Our mission is to provide an opportunity for people impacted by disabilities to play, to be fit, active and healthy -- and again, do that together with their family, or their friends, or their peers, or their colleagues, or whoever," said Buchman.

He also wants people to have a good time -- while also getting those competitive juices flowing.

"This is a new experience for everybody. We're really having fun with it," said Hoppe.

"I had a great time. It was a blast. I wasn't expecting how much fun it would be," said Letizia.

"We shake hands at the start, but as soon as the whistle blows, we are trying to win. It is competitive. Wheelchairs are banging into each other," said Letizia.

"Once people left their inhibition, their competitiveness on the floor was pretty fun to watch," said Buchman.

"This is competitive. This is a league. This is not a joke. We are here to celebrate disabilities and that's the main reason we are here, but we are here to have fun too, and it's competitive just like it is in regular wheelchair basketball," said Hoppe.

"I think we are going to have to find another, bigger school with more courts and more chairs in just our second season," said Buchman.

The inaugural season just started, and runs for 10 weeks.

Buchman said he's hoping to start a second season in the fall.

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