The "Man to Man" Celebrity Wheelchair Basketball event on Saturday afternoon at Harris Stowe State University couldn’t help but be competitive, considering how many ex-pro athletes were playing.
But raising money for some good people was the main point of the day, while having fun was merely a given.
The players, some with years of experience and some first-timers, played on teams that were a mix of local ex-Cardinals, media personalities, college players, and a handful of experienced wheelchair basketball players. Each played in the wheelchairs made for the sport.
Kenny Lee, who was paralyzed after a serious car accident, and former Cardinals player Lonnie Maclin, who recently suffered a debilitating stroke, were two of the recipients of the benefit game. Both have mounting hospital bills. Lee is a former college player at Harris Stowe and high school player at .
Lee was also part of the coaching staff for the Maplewood Richmond Heights boys basketball team in 2009, prior to his accident in that same year.
Ex-Christian Brothers College, Saint Louis University, and NBA basketball standout Larry Hughes’ foundation to assist families of organ donors with emotional and financial needs also benefited. Hughes also saw the benefit going back to the players and fans, too. To kick the weekend off, Hughes threw out the first pitch at the Cardinals game on Friday night.
“Giving the community something to get behind, and really make this thing big,” Hughes said. “And give not only to these kids, but these adults, who come out and play a sport that they love, and also have fans in the stands to watch them.”
Lee now plays wheelchair basketball in Missouri and Florida. He said it’s great to show able-bodied guys what it’s like to play the wheelchair game.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “A lot of these guys, their arms are probably tired, but it’s a good time. We got a decent crowd here, and that’s what it’s about, giving it back to three pretty good people and foundations we have going on.”
Lee said he hopes someday to return to coaching, but not this year. At MRH, perhaps?
“I’m pretty sure Corey (Frazier, MRH head coach) wouldn’t mind having me back,” he said.
Kelvin Lee, Kenny Lee’s uncle, and the Chaminade head boys coach, said he’s “real strong.” Lee said his nephew can do a lot of good things, even though he’s paralyzed from the waist down. “He wants to coach still, and do some motivational speaking, and that’s what it’s all about, helping kids out,” Lee said.
The experienced players, like two-time paraolympics gold-medal winner Emily Hoskins, spun circles around players like Jim Powers from KFNS 590 The Fan. Hoskins had the ability to palm a ball into her lap (one dribble is required for every two pushes on the wheel) and streak for the basket.
Junior player Nate Rainge dribbled and kept the ball in front of him. The years of playing have given players like Hoskins and Rainge strong shoulders and arms for speed and passing. On breakaways, they rolled and shot at top speed, or hit a teammate with a pass.
Troy Robertson, who also played at St. Charles West and St. Louis University, called it a humbling experience. “It’s the mobility and being able to move, and shoot, the whole thing,” he said. “These guys are incredible how they move. And I’m not. It was like being back in second grade, that what it felt like.”
Hoskins, who has played at the top level of the sport, enjoyed the spirit of the game.
“I’m used to a little bit higher level of competition, but we also had some Cards players. Everybody’s got that competitive spirit, so it’s nice being out there,” she said. “They want to win, but we want to have a good time, too.”
MRH coach Frazier, who enjoyed having Lee on his staff, said he knew Lee was nervous before the game.
“But now, I’m nervous,” coach Lee said, just like he’d be before any game. He said he felt like he was going to “watch a game, not Kenny in a wheelchair.”
Lee added, “But he’s accepted it pretty well and done pretty well with it, so I’m proud to see him doing it. Playing hard, that’s it. That’s definitely it.”
On The Dial
Rob Ramsey took the public address reins in annoucing the action. Julie Tristan from was among the competitors.