Wed. Aug 10th, 2022

Arelle Middleton tries to block coach Rick Tirambulo’s pass at a Rancho Halos training session on Monday, September 13 (Photo by David Rodish / Cronkite News)

DOWNEY, California – On the basketball courts at the Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, the familiar sounds of shoes squeaking are replaced by wheels humming and plastic colliding. The court is home to the center’s youth wheelchair basketball team – Rancho Halos – and when they are not here on Monday nights, they often travel around the country to compete.

Arelle Middleton, 13, who also plays water polo, wheelchair volleyball, athletics and wheelchair tennis, loves the opportunities basketball offers.

“It’s fun because you can make new friends and travel,” Middleton said.

Middleton was born with a disability, head coach Rick Tirambulo said. Despite her young age, she towers over her coach and her older teammates in the chair. Her play reflects that height advantage.

“It’s fun to be able to do different things and have different opportunities to travel and play tournaments against other people,” she said.

Children who have been in an accident or were born with a physical disability can exercise, make friends and enjoy basketball without having to pay to join the team because they are supported by donations from foundations such as LA84, a youth sports group formed after The 1984 Olympics in LA, and Las Floristas, a women’s volunteer organization dedicated to helping children with special needs become independent, productive citizens. Las Floristas has partnered with Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center for about 50 years.

Halo’s court practice at Rancho, a 158-bed rehabilitation hospital where patients are treated for spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke or other neurological disorders. The Rancho Los Amigos Foundation is a separate nonprofit organization that works with Los Angeles County to raise money for the Rehabilitation Center.

Related story

“Once you’ve had a life that changes injury or illness, your world is shaken and you need to find out your new normal,” said Deborah Arroyo, the foundation’s CEO.

Children can find their new normal with the support of understanding peers, health professionals and adult mentors who train or are on the adult team.

For some competitors, wheelchair basketball does not end with Rancho. Some are scouted and offered scholarships to play collegiate Division I wheelchair basketball.

“Colleges are coming to these tournaments and recruiting them,” said Tiffany Yonemoto, a recreational therapist at the hospital. “Some of the kids get full amusement to play at different universities (basketball teams). Many of our players graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree and then compete abroad “professionally.

College recruitment follows normal National Collegiate Athletic Association rules. Most of the schools with Division I wheelchair basketball programs are in the East and Midwest. The University of Arizona has a team, but players are not required to attend the university.

For Alessandro Pintoi, playing in college, any college, is what this opportunity is all about.

“That’s what I want to do,” said Pintoi, who is a big Los Angeles Lakers fan. “I want to play wheelchair basketball through college, no matter what college I may go to.”

Coaching kids is a passion for Tirambulo, but helping them get into college or find out about their life outside of school is his favorite part.

“Basketball is fun, but college education and experience are more important for them to see,” Tirambulo said. “It’s a springboard, it’s about getting their lives together.”

After college, players can advance to the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation, which is the only authority in global wheelchair basketball, according to the International Paralympic Committee. The IWBF and IPC have produced players like the Paralympic gold medalist Patrick Anderson, who is considered by many to be the greatest wheelchair basketball player, a role model who has proven to countless younger players that they can still reach their athletic goals.

After playing internationally, many players have returned to the Rancho program to play for the adult team and mentor the younger children.

“They want to give back to the program that changed their lives when they were little kids,” Yonemoto said. “They will return to be part of the Rancho family again.”

Yonemoto leads the basketball program. She works with the coaches, books flights and hotels, coordinates with the foundation, helps children apply for grants to pay for basketball wheelchairs and a variety of other tasks and responsibilities.

Yonemoto wants to see the Rancho facilities expand, and her “dream” would be to model it after Ability 360 in Phoenix, a non-profit group that offers programs to improve the lives of people with disabilities. They have similar programs to Rancho and recently held a wheelchair soccer tournament.

Tirambulo – an 8th grade science teacher at Saint Cyprian Catholic School by day and coach of Rancho Halos by night – has coached at Rancho for nearly 30 years. He started training in college and he jumped at the opportunity to work more with the team after he graduated.

“I simply love training here,” Tirambulo said. “If I can change (the kids’) lives, and if I can help them get on with their lives, that’s what it’s about. I love being a part of their lives and training them. ”

Luci Castillo, who also practices several sports on top of basketball, including surfing and ice skating, started at Rancho when she was 5. Now 14 and sniper on the hardwood, she appreciates the basketball knowledge and technique she learned under coach Tirambulo.

Each child joins in at a different time and plays for a different reason, but they all leave with the same support staff, friendships, and basketball skills.

“It’s a good partnership, we’m grateful for LA84,” Arroyo said. “They continue to support youth athletics in (Los Angeles) County and Southern California, and we are certainly grateful that they wanted to partner with us to support our wheelchair basketball basketball programs.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.