The year was 2010. The time was 5:00 pm on a Saturday evening in January. The place was the Parker Gymnasium at PazNaz. The event was Upward Wheels, a brand new ministry that sprung out of a desire to provide a place for the PazNaz Upward Director’s son to experience basketball.
This was no ordinary basketball league. It had been adapted and geared for players who needed modified hoops, basketballs, and even a modified game. These players needed a buddy to push their wheelchairs around the court and assist them with making baskets, blocking their opponents, and having a sports experience like none other.
On this Saturday in 2010, as you entered the gym, you would have seen three boys and their buddies having a great time. On the bleachers sat three sets of parents watching in disbelief that their sons were playing basketball.
Fast forward seven years to 2017. The time is noon on a Saturday afternoon in January at the PazNaz gym. The event is PazNaz Wheels, which has transformed over the years from Upward Wheels into its own ministry outreach. As you enter the gym it is filled with excitement and enthusiasm for the thirteen players and their buddies who are wheeling around the court.
PazNaz Wheels has morphed from a small ministry tagged on at the end of the day to the center of the PazNaz Upwards basketball program. Throughout the past seven years, families have come seeking an opportunity for their children to play basketball, a sport that for many would have not been possible had it not been for PazNaz Wheels.
The joy and excitement on each player’s face is contagious. The parents’ joy and happiness is evident when they see their son or daughter making a basket with the aid of a buddy or even wheeling around and almost making the baskets independently.
What started out as being a buddy because mom asked him to has turned into a friendship. Dade enjoys spending time with Christopher and will ask to hang out with him. Last year, Dade made the choice to stop playing basketball and just be Christopher’s buddy. His care and compassion for Christopher has also inspired Chris’s sister, Maddie, to also become a buddy.
Each year new players are invited by the many PazNaz Wheels families who have been blessed by this amazing opportunity and want to share it with their friends. Families have invited other families when their kids have been in swim lessons together or other therapies.
Last year a new family was invited to play by one of their son’s classmates. Their son, Jonah, was hesitant at first and not too sure about what was happening. His parents were excited but, as with any new experience in a new environment, a little unsure. This year is a completely different story. Jonah’s parents shared with me that Jonah gets very excited to come to Wheels. They know this because anytime they are going to the parking lot for one of his older brothers’ sporting events, Jonah lets it be known that he is not happy to be there. That is not the case when they drive into the PazNaz parking lot. Jonah’s face lights up and he can’t wait to get into the gym. As his family was sharing this story with me, the realization came that Jonah knew this was for him. Everything else that happens is always about his older brothers, but for eight short weeks during January and February from noon to 1:00 pm, it’s all about Jonah!
Other transformations I have personally seen are in my own son, Dade, his buddy Christopher, and Christopher’s sister, Maddie. Four years ago, Dade agreed to be the buddy for Christopher, who was a new Wheels player at the time. In the beginning, this was challenging for Dade, but he got in there and gave it his all. In those days, Dade was also playing Upward Basketball and then would be a buddy for Chris the same day.
What started out as being a buddy because mom asked him to has turned into a friendship. Dade enjoys spending time with Christopher and will ask to hang out with him. Last year, Dade made the choice to stop playing basketball and just be Christopher’s buddy. His care and compassion for Christopher has also inspired Chris’ sister, Maddie, to also become a buddy.
This season of PazNaz Wheels, you will find Dade and Christopher running drills, making baskets, playing defense, and generally having a great time. You will find Maddie serving as a buddy as well. Maddie has seen the joy this experience has brought to her brother and she wants to be a part of bringing that same joy to someone else. She is a regular athlete and has not always been able to serve as a buddy because of her own soccer games. This year Maddie decided that she wanted to play Upward Basketball, too, so she now has her own games in the afternoon.
In the same way that Jonah knows that PazNaz Wheels is for him, the rest of the PazNaz Wheels players’ families could share similar stories. Each one of them is thrilled to see their child play a sport many did not think would ever be possible. On game one of this season, Chris’s mom told me that Chris could not wait for Wheels. He looks forward to each Saturday with anticipation and excitement. He is not alone!
As a pastor it gives me great joy to see the impact that PazNaz Wheels has on all of the families who are involved. The majority of new players have come from a personal invitation from another family. Watching the kids and buddies grow over these past seven years has been transformational.
PazNaz Wheels has come a long way, from the three boys playing against each other, to two separate games going on at the same time. Each year we have added new players. Watching these players grow up and their buddies develop and mature truly has been a blessing. If you find yourself with a spare hour at noon on a Saturday, I invite you to come and experience PazNaz Wheels for yourself. I promise that you will be blessed, encouraged, and your life might even be transformed as you watch the body of Christ working and living out the mission of Jesus.
– Pastor Julie Keith
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