Justin, Vanessa and Jordan Stephens may be rookies on the provincial wheelchair basketball team, but they have a shot at making it to the 2015 Canada Games.
The teenage Stephens siblings have a unique relationship.
Sure, they have the occasional squabble, but Vanessa, Jordan and Justin, are well known for going that extra mile to play together.
And, it is their love for inclusive team sports that may see this trio heading to the Canada Games in 2015 as part of Team Nova Scotia’s wheelchair basketball team.
The sport accepts able-bodied athletes and players with disabilities. There are 10 players on the provincial team, including the Stephens siblings, who have been dubbed the “Valley kids.”
The Stephens have been travelling to Halifax for weekly practices since the team’s coach hosted a wheelchair basketball demo day in Windsor a few months ago.
The siblings, who commute to Kings County to play sledge hockey in the winter, are used to hitting the road for competitive sports, but their new-found love of wheelchair basketball may see them soaring to new heights to compete against some of the top Para sport athletes in the country.
“We’re working toward going to B.C. in three years for the Canada Games,” 16-year-old Vanessa says.
Vanessa and 13-year-old Justin are considered able-bodied players. Justin’s twin, Jordan, on the other hand, says years of wheelchair use has given him an advantage over his siblings on the court.
“They ask me how do you stop, how do you turn? This is simple stuff for me,” he said, light-heartedly recalling the wheelchair orientation training his teammates received at the first practice.
“I’m like ‘this is boring.’”
When the pace picked up, Jordan met some stiff competition in the sport that allows players to ram each other’s chair in pursuit of the ball.
“They flip and everything,” the West Hants Middle School student said.
Vanessa says she has gained a greater understanding of her little brother through the sport, which requires able-bodied players to be strapped to their chairs.
“It gives us the experience to be in a wheelchair for a couple hours and know what it’s like to be in a wheelchair like Jordan,” she said.
“We’re always complaining about getting blisters, but he gets them all the time from being in a wheelchair,” she explained.
The trio played their first game of wheelchair basketball at an eastern junior tournament held at the Canada Games Centre in Halifax the weekend of April 14-15. Team Nova Scotia finished the weekend with one win and four losses in the tournament, which attracted teams from New Brunswick, PEI, Ontario and Quebec.
Coach Steve Sampson said he was pleased with the team’s performance as a unit, and the Stephens siblings exceeded his expectations.
“We have a very young team,” he said. “I only have one returning player on the team from the 2011 Canada Games… we’re the only team in the Maritimes in that situation.”
Sampson said the tournament was a learning experience that will help give each player an idea of how he or she can improve.
“Now that the tournament is over our real goal now is Canada Games,” he said.
Sampson hopes to recruit about 20 more players before it is time to select a team of 12 to represent Nova Scotia in the national competition.
“Our sport is amazing and, for whatever reason, we have a hard time getting people out — able bodied or otherwise. If they would just come out and try it, they would see it’s amazing.”
In the meantime, Sampson, a former varsity basketball player, is working on getting three court-ready wheelchairs out to the Stephens’ Hants County home to make it possible for the “Valley kids” to practice as often as they like.
For more information, call Steve Sampson at (902) 852-4502 or e-mail email@example.com.