ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. – Some young athletes are getting an assist from a local police department. On Friday evening, the Rolling Rams, Missouri’s only youth wheelchair basketball team, threw elbows with law enforcement on the basketball court.
For the third year, St. Louis County police officers ditched the brown uniforms for t-shirts and a set of wheels in a “cops versus kids” wheelchair basketball scrimmage.
“I know what to expect, and I know to be very afraid,” said Sgt. Lisa Garcia, who was back for her second year on the police team.
Money raised at the event goes directly to the Rolling Rams to ensure players can travel to tournaments and have the proper equipment to compete. While it’s a friendly event, both teams take the competition seriously.
“They do not take it easy on us and we don’t take it easy on them,” Garcia said.
Event organizer Rob Niemira said it is important for the kids to feel like they are not defined by their chairs.
“We’ll put them up against the bravest St. Louis County has to offer, and you’re going to see just how strong these kids are,” Niemira said.
Niemira’s son, Liam, was born with spina bifida. He said the diagnosis was scary, and he could not help but think of the challenges his son would face.
However, Liam, now seven-years-old, was not phased by his condition. Liam began playing with the Rolling Rams at just two-and-a-half-years-old.
“Everything went from what he couldn’t do to, ‘Look what this kid can do!'” Niemira said,
To be eligible to play with the Rolling Rams, athletes must have a lower limb disability that would rule out traditional basketball.
“You can create bonds that you never had before, and on top of that, you can meet people that are just like you,” said Mathew Simmons, 16, who began playing wheelchair basketball nine years ago.
Simmons said the team practices twice a week, and they work hard on the fundamentals including teamwork and communication.
The Rolling Rams defeated the St. Louis County Police Department team this year, but everyone went home as winners.