Richland High junior plans wheelchair basketball tournament

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 19, 2014 

Asaunti Foner Wheelchair

Asuanti Foner, 17, says there are plenty of kids in the Tri-Cities who could play wheelchair basketball with him. Foner and organizers have arranged a wheelchair basketball tournament at Richland High this Saturday to educate people about the sport.

TY BEAVER — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

It's the basketball postseason, but one Richland High School junior has to drive to Spokane every two weeks just to play the game.

Asuanti Foner, 17, says there are plenty of kids in the Tri-Cities who could play wheelchair basketball with him. Whenever he tries to recruit them, though, they shy away from it.

"I know so many people who would be good if they'd just play," he said.

Asuanti and organizers think a wheelchair basketball tournament they've arranged at Richland High this Saturday will go a long way toward educating people and bringing them to the sport.

Players from Spokane, Seattle and Portland are coming to play, talk about the game, and hopefully inspire local people with disabilities.

The ultimate goal is to help them get out and have fun, which can make them more confident, improve their health and fight depression.

"I think a lot of people could benefit," Asuanti said. "Especially kids who hide in their houses and don't do anything but can come out and play."

Asuanti has enjoyed sports most of his life, but began playing wheelchair basketball about six years ago, not long after he was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a spinal cord infection that paralyzed him below the waist.

While most think of the sport as being for people who must permanently use a wheelchair, anyone with a physical disability limiting their mobility can play, said Teresa Skinner, executive director with the Spokane-based nonprofit ParaSport Spokane. That includes amputees and people with scoliosis, cerebral palsy, or differing leg lengths.

"Over half our athletes walk," Skinner said of her organization's four teams.

With no wheelchair basketball team in the Tri-Cities, though, Asuanti has had to travel to play on a team. He goes to Spokane twice a month for games.

"It's just not really known in the Tri-Cities at all," he said. "I don't think anyone out here has seen anything like it."

About 100 people qualify to play wheelchair basketball in the Tri-City area, Skinner said, but efforts to get teams started have been difficult. Another player has held practices at a Pasco school gym, but only one or two people show up to play.

That motivated Asuanti, along with Skinner and Richland High School career counselor Margaret Novy, to arrange this weekend's unofficial tournament.

"It just seems silly that in a community this size that we don't have a wheelchair (basketball) league," Novy said.

Nurturing wheelchair basketball in the Tri-Cities has its benefts for teams in Spokane, Seattle and Portland, Skinner said. It means players would have to travel less to play the games needed to qualify for post-season competition.

And while Asuanti wants to bring people to the sport, he's pretty excited to show off his moves on the court this weekend, he said.

"I love playing in my basketball chair," he said, smiling.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

Wheelchair basketball tournament

When: Noon to 6 p.m. Saturday

Where: Richland High School gym

Cost: Free

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