Teams from across Montana will head to the Flathead this weekend for a basketball tournament with a twist. It’s a competitive wheelchair basketball tournament with teams from across the Flathead, and the state. This Friday and Saturday will mark the 26th annual “Big Wheels” Basketball Weekend.
“It started off years ago, just with a goofy basketball game where people would sit in wheelchairs and do kind of like a globe trotters spoof,” said Gay Moddrell, Executive Director of the Special Friends Advocacy Program.
Moddrell says this is the programs one, major fundraiser. SFAP is a non-profit organization providing services to people in the community with developmental disabilities. Moddrell says the program is directed by the people it serves. One of their programs she describes as similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters as creating partnerships between a volunteer and a person with a disability, “and boy, some of these friendships have gone on for over 20 years,” Moddrell said, “some of it’s social, sometimes they need to help their partner speak up for what they want.”
Moddrell says they’re not a state agency, instead receiving all their support from the United Way, and the community through things like the tournament. This Friday, April 20th the Elks Club in Kalispell hosts music, a silent auction and raffle that benefit the program, and then all day Saturday teams will compete in the wheelchair basketball tournament.
Moddrell says it’s an integrated sport with some wheelchair-bound players and others like those from the fire department, police department, and sheriff’s office who only get behind the wheels this time of year. Each team pays to play.
Moddrell says the Special Friends Advocacy Program aims to help people with disabilities who are not getting their needs met elsewhere.
“I think about one old gentleman, he passed away last year, but for years he had been living in his car because he fell through the cracks- didn’t have a case manager, there was nobody really to help him get settled in the community,” Moddrell said, “about 3 years, 4 years, maybe, before he passed away- he had a house, he was clean, he was well dressed, he was very much a respected person within our community. I think his biggest joy, as I look back on his life was growing his strawberries outside his house.”
Moddrell says there used to be several competitive wheelchair basketball tournaments like this across the state, but this is the last of its kind with teams coming in from Billings, Great Falls, Cascade, and Troy.