UMass Lowell students face off against New England Blazers wheelchair basketball team

The New England Blazers played against the UMass Lowell women’s basketball team in April of last year. (Julia Malakie/Lowell Sun)

Jason Ounpraseuth
Connector Staff

On Friday, Oct. 20, in their annual partnership with the New England Blazers, the physical therapy club invited students to learn first-hand the challenges people in wheelchairs go through by playing wheelchair basketball.

The New England Blazers wheelchair basketball team is an affiliate of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. The Blazers are a not-for-profit organization who raises their own funds during the offseason to allow them new equipment and money to travel.

Paul Cowan has served as director of the Blazers basketball program since 1992. Cowan is not only the director, but he does so much more for the Blazers, serving as the coach, the equipment manager and many other things that make him so vital for the Blazers.

“It’s really cool to be able to have [the New England Blazers] come in. When you’re in the chair it puts you in a position like ‘oh this is kind of how it is,’ but either way they’re still participating in the community,” said physical therapy club President Mike Chiauzzi. “It’s an awesome event, and we have it every year, so this isn’t the first time we’ve had it.

It was an eye-opening event for many who participated in the game.

“You kind of learn it as you go because obviously they have their plays down,” said Chiauzzi. “It kind of shows you. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a wheelchair or not. They make it look so easy, and it definitely gives you a new perspective. It’s amazing, what they’re able to do.”

Friends and family watched on, seeing the fantastical moves of the Blazers as they passed and moved the ball with very few faults.

For the students, it was more trial and error for the rotating groups who got a chance to sit in the wheelchair and get their own experience of wheelchair basketball. Some were successful in moving in the chair and getting shots off while others fell and found trouble moving in the chair, but at the end of the day, everyone had fun as the physical therapy club raised money for the club and other organizations.

The partnership has not only benefited the physical therapy club and other students, but it serves as a chance to have some fun for the Blazers.

“The guys love it. They love doing this type of exhibition game. We get so intense in our own league and everything. This is fun for us,” said Cowan.

Each group of five students got a chance to rotate every 15 minutes to get their shot at trying to see what they were capable of in wheelchair basketball. This kind of experience is a unique one, and Cowan said, “It gets the able-bodied people [a chance to] live in our world, especially in the sports world, not necessarily everyday life.”

It may have been just for 15 or 20 minutes, but the people who participated in the wheelchair basketball event will walk away with a small idea of what it is like for people like Cowan and his teammates from the Blazers thanks to the Physical Mobility Basketball event held by the physical therapy club.

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