Alyssa Lynch was born 13 years ago missing her right leg from the knee down. Nine years later, she found something that made her forget about her disability: wheelchair basketball.
“All the kids are the same there, and no one looks at you weird,” Alyssa said.
Now, she and her father, Richard Lynch, are putting together a co-ed wheelchair basketball team in Johnston County for 7- to 18-year-olds.
“Johnston County doesn’t have a lot to offer for disabled youth,” Richard Lynch said.
The team, called Revolution, currently has six players ranging from 11 to 17. They are either amputees or have spina bifida.
“They can just let their guard down and be themselves,” Lynch said. “It gives them a comfort zone.”
To recruit more players, the team held an open house Aug. 16 at the Clayton Community Center. Attendees had a chance to meet U.S.A Paralympic team member and N.C. Central University professor Andrea Woodson-Smith. They also tried out the customized athletic wheelchairs that the players use.
The wheelchairs cost $1,800 each, and Lynch is hoping to purchase more through his nonprofit, Revolution Adaptive Sports.
“As of right now, all of our players own their own athletic chairs,” Lynch said. “But I would like for our corporation to own about three or four of them so we can loan them out to recruits who can’t afford their own chairs.”
The nonprofit also will help with other team expenses, like travel to tournaments both in and out of state.
“The ultimate is making it to the national tournament every year,” Lynch said.
Revolution’s captain and coach is Dr. David Becker, who specializes in sports team medicine. His 14-year-old daughter is on the team, which will compete against other youth teams across the Southeast as part of the National Wheelchair Association.
Each game is played in 15-minute quarters. Players with the ball must dribble once for every two times they push their chairs.
Johnston County is not completely void of athletic teams for disabled youth and adults. The Miracle League of Johnston County is a baseball league for children with physical, cognitive or emotional disabilities. The group, based in Smithfield, is raising money to build a baseball field made of a special rubber surface.
Lynch’s main motivation for spearheading a hometown team was to offer kids and their parents the same gift he received: watching his daughter grow.
“She’s not as self-conscious about her disability,” he said. “I wanted other parents to be able to let their kids experience the same thing, to have that growth, watch them mature, watch them gain confidence.”
The current players, including Alyssa, were formerly part of the Triangle’s Junior Thunder team in Raleigh, but Lynch wanted to eliminate the commute to practice and create a team focused on the parents.
The same players have been with each other year after year, Lynch said.
“They’re very competitive on the court,” he said. “But once the game’s over, they’re best buddies.”
Staff writer Nash Dunn contributed to this report.