Juniors Active in Wheelchair Sports (Jaws) hosted the New Mexico Junior Thunderbirds Saturday morning at the UA Student Rec Center. Presented by Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports (SAAS), the JR Wildcats split a couple of scrimmage games with the team from New Mexico in a day that included a visit to the nationally-recognized Adaptive Athletics program located at the Disability Resource Center on the University of Arizona campus.
The Jr. Wildcats carry on a rich tradition of adaptive athletics in the Tucson community that dates back over half a century. Besides basketball, athletes compete, train and participate in tennis, cycling, rugby and golf with the UA Adaptive Athletics program offering each sport at the collegiate level and SAAS providing community programs including competitive adult programs.
UA assistant Women’s Basketball coach Courtney Ryan and Men’s assistant Ryan Prioleau led the Jr. Wildcats Saturday morning and the team is comprised of several local standouts.
Adrina Castro is a local sixth grader who possesses unique ball-handling skills while directing her team down the court while Sahuarita senior Sariah Elam setts up for what becomes a dominating scoring presence on the blocks. Former Tanque Verde basketball and golf standout Bailey Bish uses her athletic ability to set up opposite of Elam.
Bish was a standout basketball player at Tanque Verde but she went in for surgery in 2014 for a deviated septum and a bone spur but complications from the surgery led to a fever of 105.7 and a significant loss of blood. The result was the loss of normal function in her right hand and leg. A specialist later determined encephalitis was the cause of her difficulties due to bacteria spreading during her surgery. Still, Bish came close to qualifying for the state high school golf tournament in the spring of 2018.
Bish will be a part of the newly-formed University of Arizona Adaptive Golf team, realizing her dream of competing at the collegiate level. The Arizona program is the first collegiate-based program in the country.
Like Bish, Elam was just beginning her promising high school athletic career but an accident coming home from an athletic event in the spring of 2017 caused serious injury to both her parents and even more devastating injuries to herself and to her sister Celestial. A standout volleyball player at Sahuarita, Celestial was left paralyzed as was Sariah.
Sariah was almost unstoppable in the first game against New Mexico and she scored 16 points in the win.
Castro proudly proclaims “Spina Bifida” as her “Super Power” and she has dreams of being in the Paralympics and playing for Arizona. Team USA standout Jenn Poist is also the head coach of the Arizona Women’s team so Castro’s dreams could be a reality soon.
The junior programs are always looking for talent and if you are interested please visit SAAS and come out to a free practices Saturdays at the Donna Liggins Recreation Center located at 2160 N. 6th Avenue. (520-370-0588)
Arizona will host the College Invitational from Feb. 20-22 and there will be youth games involved. Go HERE for more information.
NOTE: I was an assistant coach of the men’s wheelchair team, the “Wildchairs,” under legendary David Herr-Cardillo from 1983 to 1996. It was because of that experience that I became an Adaptive PE teacher in the Amphitheater School District and I sort of retired last year.
Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014, he was awarded the Ray McNally Award in 2017, a 2019 AZ Education News award winner and he has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. He was the first in Arizona to write about high school beach volleyball and high school girls wrestling. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here and on AZPreps365.com. Andy is the Southern Arizona voting member of the Ed Doherty Award, recognizing the top football player in Arizona, and he was named a Local Hero by the Tucson Weekly for 2016. Andy was named an Honorary Flowing Wells Caballero in 2019. Contact Andy Morales at email@example.com