NCAA's Not The Only Game In Town

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wheelchair basketball
CBS

It didn't get as much publicity as the NCAA tournament, but another men's college basketball championship was decided this past weekend in Illinois.

The players on the College Wheelchair Division I teams have a different way of getting up and down the court, reports CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts, but boy can they play.

With just seconds to go in a tie game, Texas Arlington sophomore David Gonzales tossed up a prayer, and landed the winning basket over the Wisconsin-Whitewater team. Fans stormed the court, and parents cried.

It was a moment that lends itself to sentimentality, perhaps even pity. But, Pitts says, there's one thing to be learned about the National Wheelchair Basketball Association: Nobody around it uses the "I" — as in inspirational — word.

Senior Denny Muha, who plays for the University of Illinois wheelchair team, explains, "Usually it comes at the end, after the story and the reporters are looking at each other and they're like, 'Oh, those kids really are an "inspiration." ' And we just go, 'arrghh.. they did it again.' "

The student athletes want more fans in the stands and less sympathy from outsiders.

"What pisses me off as a wheelchair athlete," says Illinois senior Josh George, "is when people sort of look at me and say, 'Oh good for you, you're getting out, you're doing something.' "

But actually, as Pitts illustrates by trying his hand at the game, it's something most of us could never do.

Thirteen U.S. colleges now offer men's and women's wheelchair basketball. Some even provide full scholarships. Not for the faint of heart, it's full-contact, trash-talking, head-faking, get-in-the-other-guy's-grill college hoops.

But unlike their able-bodied brethren, more than 90 percent of the athletes on wheelchair teams graduate.

Illinois head coach Mike Frogley explains, "Our kids are great role models because they work hard, they're selfless, they're responsible, they place academics first." He says his players should be measured "based on their merits. The merits of their character and the things that they can do. That's what we all want to be measured by."

It's what we all want, for ourselves and for our children: A chance at victory on our own terms.