As part of Purdy Elementary School’s Kindness Initiative, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater women’s wheelchair basketball team visited the Fort Atkinson school to teach students about inclusion and acceptance — as well as a little bit about wheelchair basketball.
At the school were head coach Christina Schwab, former Whitewater player and Fort Atkinson High School graduate Dani Ebben, and current players Gabby Merriett and Josie Dehart.
Schwab, who has spina bifida, had her players share their stories with the students to learn about adversity.
“Think about how their stories apply to your life,” Schwab said. “We’re all going to have something in our lives to overcome.”
Ebben, Merriett and Dehart all spoke about how their disabilities have impacted their lives and how they’ve used wheelchair basketball to overcome them.
“Growing up not being able to walk didn’t stop me from doing anything I wanted to do,” Ebben, who won a national championship during her time at Whitewater, said.
Schwab then answered a number of questions from the students; some were about wheelchair basketball while others were about living with a disability.
Her answers highlighted the importance of never giving up and working hard.
“I was 7 when I started shooting a basketball,” Schwab said. “I didn’t make a basket until I was 10.”
After three years without connecting on a shot, Schwab has reached the top of her athletic game. She attended five Paralympic games competing in two sports: basketball, and track and field.
As a member of the Team USA basketball team, she won three gold medals. She said she completed a marathon in about an hour and 41 minutes.
The coach also tried to show the students that she and her athletes live normal lives.
“That doesn’t mean we aren’t successful in our lives outside of basketball,” Schwab said. “We do everything just like your moms and dads do.”
Following the questions from the students, some of them got to try their hand at shooting buckets from the chairs. But the big hit was when five of their teachers went up against the three members of the team.
The game was neck and neck — for about two minutes. The Warhawks were able to find their stroke, with Dehart putting the game away with a number of long-range shots.
The teachers were able to put a few shots in the bucket, but mostly it was a moral victory for them.
The real lesson, according to Principal Leigh Ann Scheuerell, is hard to quantify.
“Oh my gosh, what can they not get out of this,” Scheuerell remarked. “It helps us be kind and include include everybody. It shows them they can set any goal they want to and achieve it. The sky’s the limit for these kids.”