HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Hattiesburg Police Officers and Firefighters turned in their badges and gear Saturday for a set of wheels on the basketball court.
The two departments played against each other in a wheelchair basketball exhibition game at the University of Southern Mississippi. The exhibition game was part of a day full of coaching, camp and friendly competition hosted by the USM Golden Eagles Wheelchair Basketball Team.
"The hardest thing for me was not putting my feet on the floor," said Lt. Latosha Myers-Mitchell, the Public Information Officer for the Hattiesburg Police Department. "It's an opportunity to get out and bring awareness to the community about things going on and also to be a light to someone else, for them to see police in a different light, it's a good thing," said Myers-Mitchell.
Sylvester Crosby is the president of the USM Golden Eagles Wheelchair Basketball Team. Crosby is able-bodied and does not rely on a wheelchair to get around, but turned to the sports after he suffered a compound fracture on his ankle three years ago. He was told he could no longer play "stand-up" sports.
"After my injury, I thought I couldn't play any sports anymore. I was introduced to the wheelchair sports and I've been playing ever since," Crosby said.
"First time it was real strange, very strange," Crosby said. "Being in a wheelchair playing is totally different from standing up playing any sport."
Crosby said the team is open to anyone in the community suffering from an injury or disability. There are currently 12 people on the Southern Miss team that travels to surrounding states to play in games and tournaments.
"Basketball league for me is pure therapy. It was part of my rehabilitation, for being around people like me who have various disabilities," said Teddy Alvis, who traveled from Mobile, Alabama to participate in Saturday's event. Alvis said he's been playing wheelchair basketball for 25 years.
"We all get together on the court and forget about all the ailments that we deal with everyday for a little while," said Alvis.
According to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, there are currently over 200 teams. The NWBA has also spread to South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. The U.S. now competes against teams from the regions at the Paralympic Games and the World Championships.
"The sport is still here," said Crosby. "That's what we are trying to do, reach out to the community and students on campus. We want them to come out and play."
There are also softball, tennis, assistive technology and other inclusive recreational activities available through the Southern Miss Institute for Disability Students Gulf Park. You can find more information about those programs here.