JAMAICA, N.Y. - Established by Harry "Hank" Carter, the Wheelchair Classic, as part of Wheelchair Charities, Inc., began in 1973 (with the first high school games beginning in 1974) and is a unique competition in New York.
Proceeds from the tournament go to special cause: supporting those who are disabled, or have suffered an injury that has led to them being disabled, and wheelchair-bound.
According to Carter's childhood friend, Tjader Fogle, the idea came about after an injury to his neck made him paralyzed from the chest down. Folge said that Carter came to the hospital where he was and saw that he and others at the hospital were in need for money. It was then that Carter came up with the idea for Wheelchair Charities.
One of things Fogle said he likes the most about the Wheelchair Classic as one of Wheelchair Charities' fundraising events is that one of the regulations for participating high school student-athletes is that they visit Coler Goldwater Hospital, located in Roosevelt Island, N.Y. for a meet-and-greet session with those who are on the other end of the charity - disabled patients.
"It exposes them to the disabled community," Fogle told NYCHoops.net. "I always mention to them - you see somebody disabled in a wheelchair, you don't even give them eye contact. You just walk past them. We show you they are just like everybody else - laughing, talking. Some are very disabled, and some you can't even tell they have a disability."
In fact, as a tribute to his 40 years of support, the new home of Coler Goldwater Hospital will be named the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility, slated to be completed in the Fall of 2013 in Harlem, N.Y.
Though the charity basketball tournament portion of Wheelchair Charities, Inc. had its beginnings in 1973 with the semi-pro game, Carter changed the complexion of the classic to feature only high school players a year later.
"The first high school game Bernard King scored the first two points of the tournament," said Carter with a smile. "He finished with 37 points."
Many others in attendance recounted stories of when the Wheelchair Classic was a premier New York basketball event, featuring some impassioned borough rivalry matchups in the days before national tournaments became the highlight of the high school basketball off-season. The same people voiced hope for the classic to return to its former spotlight because it was for a great cause and provided a stage for high-caliber talent from New York City to compete in New York City.
Although not as widely publicized as other events these days, the battle of the boroughs tradition continues. This week - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday - both girls and boys basketball student-athletes are competing simply for the Wheelchair Charities cause and for borough bragging rights.
Since Monday was allotted to the girls high school games, Tuesday, the second day of this year's Wheelchair Classic, was the high school boys' turn to display their talent and skill sets in nightcap matchups. On the hardwood of CUNY York College, two contests took place: Brooklyn tipping off against Manhattan and the Bronx, which also consists of players from Westchester County, going toe-to-toe with Queens.
At the end of the evening, both Brooklyn and Bronx, winners in the semifinal round, will meet in the classic's championship game on Wednesday at 8 p.m., while Manhattan and Queens will play in the consolation matchup at 5 p.m.
Let's take a look at semifinal action . . .
Brooklyn Edges Manhattan, 64-61
The matchup did not have a steady flow in the first half, as both teams played somewhat unconventional. Early in the game, however, Brooklyn proved that it had a deeper bench than Manhattan in terms of talent and skill. Brooklyn touted some of the most popular names from some of the powerhouse programs in the borough, including recent PSAL 'AA' champion Abraham Lincoln High School.
Although Manhattan was not able to come away with the victory, the squad made the game interesting down the stretch by having solid contributions from relatively unknowns to come within striking distance of Brooklyn.
Thanks to the offensive grind of Isaiah Whitehead (Abraham Lincoln H.S. (N.Y.) '14), who scored nine of his 10 points in the first half, as well as Doudmy Saint Hillaire (South Shore (N.Y.) '14) and Fabian MacDonald (ENY Transit Tech (N.Y.) '13), Brooklyn earned a 14-point lead, 29-15, with under a minute remaining in the second quarter.
Brooklyn closed the first half with an 11 point advantage, 33-22.
In the third phase, Manhattan, which seemed to allow Brooklyn to have its way in the first half, cut its deficit to only five points, 36-31, on a bucket by the 5-foot-9 guard Shammgod Wells (Believe Prep (N.Y.) '13). However, Saint Hillaire answered, stroking a 3-pointer with shooter's confidence, resulting in an eight-point lead for Brooklyn, 39-31.
Soon, Brooklyn would get its weight back up, holding a solid 12-point advantage, 44-32, at the close of the tertiary period after closing the quarter with two more baskets, one of which coming from Trevonn Morton (Abraham Lincoln H.S. (N.Y.) '13).
Brooklyn's MacDonald opened the fourth and final phase with a dagger from deep, continuing the sentiment from the third period. With the MacDonald 3-pointer, Brooklyn held as much as a 15-point advantage, 47-32.
With about eight minutes left in the game, with some contributions from Nathaneal Williams (Manhattan H.S. (N.Y.) '13) and Jason Perry Murray (Believe Prep (N.Y.) '13), Manhattan scored six unanswered points to cut their deficit to nine points, 47-38. However, despite a well executed crossover and lay-up by Manhattan's Tristan Rosa (Thurgood Marshall Academy (N.Y.) '14) that made his defender fall to the floor and a cleanup near the basket by teammate Murray, Brooklyn's David Tait (South Shore (N.Y.) '13) and his athletic ability in both defense and scoring was right there to respond.
Still trailing by 14 points, 56-42, Manhattan sprang into action.
The completion of a conventional 3-point play by Manny Suarez, who had been making a difference throughout the second half with his long arms and range, helped his team cut their deficit. In fact, by the 2:45 mark of the fourth quarter, Suarez cashed in again at the free throw line to cut the deficit to eight points, 56-48.
With 1:51 on the clock, Manhattan was within three points, 56-53. Brooklyn was able to extend its advantage to only five points, 58-53, before Murray brought the game within three again, 60-57. Whitehead hit 1-of-2 from the free throw line but Suarez, once again, gave his team a lift inching Manhattan within two points, 61-59, with 27.4 seconds left in the game.
Having less than 25 seconds remaining on the game clock, Manhattan had a chance to finally overcome the hump with a high-percentage basket to tie the game for the first time since the first quarter, but Brooklyn's Tait swooped in, elevated and muffed the shot attempt on the interior.
Brooklyn's Saint Hillaire finished with a game-high 13 points, while teammate MacDonald and Tait finished with nine and seven points, respectively. Manhattan's Suarez also recorded the game-high 13 points, while his teammate Murray added 10 points. Wells and Williams added nine points apiece.
Bronx Pushes Past Queens, 106-99
In a game where the officiating on both sides of the floor was questionable, the Bronx and Queens squads engaged in a high-octane and intense battle on the hardwood of the CUNY's college gymnasium. Spectators were in for quite a treat as players and spectators in this matchup were more animated and visibly emotional than in the Brooklyn-Manhattan contest.
Despite being tied at 16 with 3:39 remaining in the first quarter, in the second period, it seemed that the Bronx had the game sewn up because it hemmed up Queens' offensive momentum. Two words summed up the reason for the Bronx' major success and those two words were Larry Beckett (Satellite H.S. (N.Y.) '13). Meanwhile, Queens seemed disjointed and unable to find a rhythm, or the chemistry, despite frequent rotation changes.
The Bronx team led by 24 points, 62-38.
At that point in the game, it was not the matchup that folks were expecting as the Queens team lacked fight. However, the halftime pep talk by the Queens coaching staff sparked something among the young men, as the turnaround occurred in the third quarter.
Queens used the period to saw its deficit down to 10 points, 78-68. On the offensive end, there were contributions from Jon Severe (Christ the King H.S. (N.Y.) '13), Jordan Fuchs (Christ the King H.S. (N.Y.) '13), Chaz Watler (Archbishop Molloy H.S. (N.Y.) '13) and Omar Williams (Benjamin Cardozo H.S. (N.Y.) '13). And, on the defensive end, there was only the game-changing post strength of Queens' Jordan Washington (Pathways College Prep (N.Y.) '13).
In the fourth quarter, Romario Fletcher (Pathways College Prep (N.Y.) '13) stroked 2-of-2 from the free throw line to inch Queens within eight points, 78-70. The Bronx advantage would be slashed even further when, just within nine minutes, Severe was fouled at the 3-point line, received three opportunities to toe the charity stripe and nailed 3-of-3. The play brought the team's deficit down to only two possessions, 81-75.
Later, at the 6:15 mark of the period, Fletcher went 1-of-2 from the line to bring Queens within five points, 85-80. However, that was quickly converted to a 10-point lead, 90-80, as Queens began to show signs of fatigue on the defensive end, allowing Bronx's Beckett to score on the interior with relative ease. Meanwhile, teammate Lorenzo Rojas (St. Raymond's H.S. (N.Y.)) nailed a 3-pointer, and topped it off with a 3-point salute from his forehead.
Seemingly kissing Queens goodbye, Fuchs answered by completing the extra opportunity after drawing an and-1. The completion of the conventional three-point play brought the squad within seven points, 90-83, with 5:16 remaining on the clock. After a free throw by Bronx'speedy point guard Josh Doughty (Mount Vernon H.S. (N.Y.) '13), who Queens players were having a hard time keeping up with and tending to foul, Queens went on a 7-2 mini-surge prompted by Washington to come within three points again - this time with the score being 93-90 with 4:11 remaining.
The Bronx, who saw offensive production from Bashir Ahmed (John F. Kennedy (N.Y.) '13), extended its lead to six, 97-91, over the next minute, but a determined Washington grabbed four offensive rebounds, drew the foul and stroked 2-of-2 from the charity stripe to bring his team within four points, 97-93. He then went to the line again on the next possession, sinking 1-of-2, to tighten the deficit to only three, 97-94, with 2:01 left in the game.
However, the intensity of the matchup led to physicality, and physicality led to fouls. Fouls led to frustration with calls, and frustration with calls led to technical fouls.
When it was all said and done, it was the Bronx that was able to make the most of the situation and come away with a hard-fought 'W.'
The Bronx's Beckett finished with a game-high 27 points, while Ahmed posted 17 points. Teammate Chris Robinson (Cardinal Hayes H.S. (N.Y.) '14) had 16 points in the win. Meanwhile, Queens' Washington netted 26 points in the loss, while Severe finished with 19 points. Teammate Fuchs added 10 points.