Rollin’ with the Red Dawgs

Steve Miller, of the Vermillion All-Stars, tries with no avail, to keep up with Dylan Fischbach (right) of Vermillion during Saturdays game in the DakotaDome that pitted the All-Stars against the Nebraska Red Dawgs. (Photo by David Lias)

The able-bodied Steve Miller of Vermillion knew right from the beginning that he would have little chance of success on the basketball court in the DakotaDome Saturday.

As a member of the Vermillion All-Stars, he and other members of the community tried their best to keep up with the Nebraska Red Dawgs wheelchair basketball team.

It was nearly an impossible feat.

I've played wheelchair basketball three or four different times, Miller said. I am a veteran at this, and I should know more about how to do this, but I don't.

Members of the Nebraska Red Dawgs can only be described as winners, even before they roll out onto the basketball court in their wheelchairs.

They've battled and overcome so much in their young lives. Serious diseases, like cancer. Problems that were present at birth, ranging from spina bifada to cerebral palsy. Crippling injuries.

It's no surprise then, after watching these group of young athletes who have accomplished so much in a brief time, to see the utter zeal they bring to the sport of wheelchair basketball.

Spectators from Vermillion and the surrounding area take special pride in the wheelchair basketball team and of one of its star athletes, Dylan Fischbach, who lost a leg to cancer as a infant.

Dylan, 15, began playing wheelchair basketball when he was 9 years old. He is finishing up his seventh season as an active participant in the sport.

Mobility is such an important part of basketball, and our competitors here move so beautifully in their chairs, Miller said. And we are horrible. There were a couple times where I threw passes to my teammates to where I thought they would be, and they could never get to the ball because we are so slow.

They (the Red Dawgs) do everything on the move; they are so smooth and fluid, he said. And you certainly aren't used to shooting from a sitting position, or dribbling, the whole nine yards. And your mobility has to come by moving the chair with your arms, which means your arms aren't free then to deal with ball. I just don't know how they do it it's impressive.

The Red Dawgs team is a competitive youth wheelchair basketball program with participants ranging in age from 8 to 18. Team members are from Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota.

The team practices every Saturday morning on the campus of the University of Nebraska Omaha, and are all involved in an intense, competitive game that follows the rules of college basketball with a few modifications.

For example, a player must dribble the ball once for every two pushes of his/her wheelchair. The offensive player has four seconds in the paint.

Clifford Moore, who teaches middle school math in Vermillion, has competed in nearly every exhibition game held by the Red Dawgs in the community, as he did Friday.

Each time, he's reminded of the young team's superior athletic ability.

There is no way we can compete with them, he said. Each one is a much better athlete in a wheelchair than we are. Just talking with them, and getting let hints from them is really good. Dylan (Fischbach) taught me how to pick the ball up using the wheel (of the wheelchair). That was a surprising thing to me, but you think you're going along pretty well, and they just come flying by you like you are a turtle.

The Red Dawgs began as an offshoot from the Omaha Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp held in the early 1990s. The team continues to be ranked nationally by the National Junior Wheelchair Basketball Association.

The balance that the team members have, and the coordination they're moving constantly while they're shooting, and they've adapted to that, Moore said. Most of the time when you are shooting on your foot, you're in one spot and you are going up and down. With wheelchair basketball, you're moving forward as you shoot, and that can really throw off the distance of your shot.

A player does not have to be a fulltime wheelchair user. A qualifying player is one who has a permanent lower extremity disability or a paralysis of the lower portion of his or her body.

Don't be fooled by these qualifying conditions.

I was surprised at how physical the game was, Moore said. They box out, they screen, and it's a hard-fought game.

They play the game beautifully, Miller said.

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