By Andrew Wroblewski
The Dix Hills Basketball Association’s program for disabled children is called Challenger, but to those who help run the program, it’s more about making a promise than taking on a challenge.
Take, for example, the Pliskin family. Despite having no previous connection to disabled children or special education, father Michael and son Ryan joined up with Challenger basketball for the 2014-2015 season. Now the family as a whole has made a promise.
“We’ve made a decision in my family that we’re going to keep doing this until we can’t anymore,” Michael, now one of the program’s coaches, said. “Until my knees give out.”
Helping kids with disabilities – such as autism or Down syndrome – get onto the court and play the game they love is the idea Challenger basketball was founded upon by Commissioner Maribeth Kramer in 2008. Kramer’s son, Matthew, was entering third grade at the time and loved to play basketball, so she had an idea.
“I went to the Dix Hills Basketball Association and told them that we have a population of special needs kids here that love to play sports,” Kramer, of Dix Hills, said. “We started with 15 kids and grew to now 36 in total, and they love it. To see how their skills have developed over the years feels great to watch.”
With two different sessions – “varsity” and “junior varsity” – the kids of Challenger basketball have been able to hone their basketball skills thanks to the program’s “buddy” system. Each year, a buddy manager – typically a high school student in the Half Hollow Hills School District – volunteers their time each and every Saturday morning by coming down to Vanderbilt Elementary School and working with the kids to play basketball while recruiting other buddies to do the same.
This year, that manager was Ryan – senior at High School East and a captain on this year’s varsity team.
“I love playing basketball and I love [working] with kids so this was just a perfect match,” Ryan, who’s off to Binghamton University next fall, said. “Everyone is in a good mood, everyone is upbeat and the kids love it.”
Ryan stressed the importance that his younger siblings step into his shoes once he ultimately does leave for college. He wants to make sure the Pliskin name is associated with Challenger basketball even when he’s not able to be there himself.
“He gets it,” Michael said of his son. “This is just a beautiful thing to give back to the community… He’s gotten so much out of it [too]; it’s made him a better person. So, yes, I’m proud of Ryan for doing this, but I’m also proud of the fact that it’s enabled my son to become a better person.”
On Saturday, Ryan recruited members of the High School East basketball program to come down and work with Challenger basketball; the kids got a taste of what it’s like to be Thunderbirds.
“To see these kids have smiles on their faces… and watch them be successful in any way possible is just great to see,” Peter Basel, head coach for Hills East’s varsity team, said.
Basel said he’d love to get the varsity program further involved with Challenger basketball in the future.
With this season coming to a close, however, those thoughtd will have to wait as the baseball diamond now comes into view this spring. For the kids in the Challenger basketball program, though, that change becomes as simple as grabbing a bat and stepping up to the plate for Half Hollow Hills Little League, which has a challenger team of its own.
For more information on Challenger basketball visit: www.eteamz.com/Dixhillsbasketball .