On a chilly night in Ulverstone you get the occasional whiff of burnt rubber on a wooden floor as wheelchair basketballers jostle for control of the ball.
It is sport at its best, competitive enough — sometimes aggressively physical — but with a strong emphasis on support, nurture and, especially, fun.
Josh Callegari has needed a wheelchair his whole life after being affected by cerebral palsy at birth. He found wheelchair basketball at 16 years of age and has never looked back.
In more recent times he has also been playing the developing sport of wheelchair Aussie rules, in which a handball is a kick and and underarm throw is a handball.
“I’ve been in a chair since forever. I found this and I love it. It’s taken me away to play. The rest is history,” Mr Callegari said, resting on the sidelines at half time.
Visibility high for disability sports
With the Paralympics coming in August and after another Wimbledon title for Dylan Alcott, awareness of physical disability sports has rarely been higher.
Hobart was also set to host the National Wheelchair AFL Championships last year before COVID-19 forced a cancellation.
There are hopes that the event could still happen in Hobart in 2021 but it would require a dramatic turnaround in the national COVID-19 situation.
Trent Johnson has needed a wheelchair since a mystery illness took hold in his early 20s.
He is now ParaQuad Tasmania’s physical disability sports co-ordinator for north-west Tasmania.
“I woke up one morning at 22 with no feeling in my toes and ankle. Over 8 months it went up one leg and down the other,” he said.
“Two years after that I ended up in a chair. They don’t really know what it is. I’ve had six diagnoses.”
On this evening of wheelchair basketball in Ulverstone, Mr Johnson organises, plays — with considerable skill — and nurtures new and young players as he goes.
Parents, carers play if a chair is free
Ollie, 12, does not stop smiling over the 90 minutes of playing time and clearly exalts in his own ability to wheel fast and cleverly read the play.
Some parents and carers also occupy empty chairs when they are available and join in. They joke about ways to slow Ollie down.
“I’m a two-week veteran now and what you learn is there’s more than one thing to do at a time out here,” said carer Matt Blake.
ParaQuad Tasmania provides sports chairs for Ulverstone’s basketball and Aussie rules.
Its CEO, Carmel Clark, said wheelchair sports provide healthy lifestyle options, positive social interactions, and life skills which benefit the wider community.
“Sport and recreation activities offer the physical advantages of good blood circulation, stronger muscles, better balance and co-ordination,” Ms Clark said.
“Inclusive sport and recreation brings psychological benefits [such as] improved self-esteem and confidence.
A number of the north-west coast players, including Trent Johnson and Josh Callegari, have had the opportunity to compete interstate, including a national wheelchair basketball carnival in NSW a few years ago.
Mr Johnson also plays wheelchair Aussie rules for AFL club Hawthorn.
He is one of four Tasmanians who travels to Melbourne regularly to play.
“I love all of the disability sports. There’s also bocce, rugby, and tennis of course,” he said.
“With the Paralympics coming up, I’m most excited about seeing the wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. I’ll be following those closely.”