Bri Miceli didn’t know what to expect when she began her placement in January with the Brock Niagara Penguins.
Time spent with the parasport program for youths and adults with disabilities has since proven both eye-opening and rewarding for the fourth-year Recreation and Leisure Studies student.
“At first, it was about gaining work experience, but now it has turned into a passion for supporting the para-athletes who have trained very hard to achieve their goals,” she says while reflecting on her short time with the group.
As part of her experiential learning and to give back to the people who quickly made an impact on her life, Miceli is planning the Brock Niagara Penguins 10th annual Wheelchair Basketball Tournament. The event will be held at Brock Saturday, March 16 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Ian Beddis Gymnasium.
Five teams from across Ontario will compete, each comprised of eight to 12 para-athletes ages 12 and up.
“Wheelchair basketball is a lot harder than many able-bodied people realize,” says Miceli, who tried her hand at the sport last year during a Therapeutic Recreation and Physical Rehabilitation course. “It is very hard to learn how to co-ordinate the chair and shoot. I came away from the game with a new appreciation for the skills and challenges required to participate in these sports.”
The Brock Niagara Penguins program started 13 years ago within the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences (FAHS) at Brock University. It relies on volunteers from all departments within FAHS to work directly with all athletes with physical disabilities to assist them within their sport.
“This placement has been such a great experience for me,” says Miceli. “I have gotten to know some of the youth who play basketball every week and see them learn and make progress. Their smiles brighten my day. I really want this tournament to be a great experience for all the athletes.”
Also doing a community-based placement with the Penguins is fourth-year Recreation and Leisure Studies student Laura Howald, who is working on event marketing and promotions for the tournament. Howald has long known that her career path would involve working with individuals with physical and neuro disabilities.
“When I was in high school, we would often use the Variety Village gym in Toronto,” she said. “This gave me a chance to interact with various individuals in a recreation setting and helped me to realize that I wanted to be involved in this community in a more professional way.”
The Penguins offer seven sporting opportunities: sitting volleyball, handcycling, wheelchair racing, wheelchair boccia, wheelchair basketball, paraswim and summer parasport camp.
“With more than 45 athletes with disabilities involved, the Penguins had more than 32 FAHS student volunteers this past year, either as part of their course requirement, as a placement, as an experiential education opportunity or to gain experience working with a diverse population,” says Brock Niagara Penguins Director and founder Karen Natho. “The Brock students work directly with athletes, helping to lead practice sessions and to achieve individual goals.”
The annual Wheelchair Boccia Tournament, co-ordinated by Recreation and Leisure Studies student Ellen Wadden, takes place Saturday, March 23 from noon to 5 p.m. in Brock’s Bob Davis Gymnasium.
Boccia is a co-ed sport of control and accuracy, similar to lawn bowling, in which players propel balls towards a target. It is considered a sport that is easy for beginners to pick up quickly but builds in intensity and complexity as players hone their skills.
“The events are as much about connecting with the parents as they are about supporting the athletes,” Howald says. “Recently, a father of two of the athletes told me that he could really tell we’ve built the confidence of his daughters. It was nice to hear we are making a positive difference for these families. I hope the Brock community will come out and cheer these athletes on.”
Niagara Penguins will have an information booth set up at both tournaments. Students interested in volunteering with the Penguins in the future are encouraged to come out to learn more about the opportunities available.
Athletes or students interested in participating or volunteering at either upcoming tournament can contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Free parking for both tournaments is available in Zone 1 and 2, as well as paid parking in Lot D.
Drop-off and pick-up for those requiring an accessible entrance is in front of the Art and Val Fleming Commons of Walker Complex.