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Top photo courtesy KSE Photographic Services. Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Leveling the Playing Field

Sports clinics inspire individuals with special needs to shoot, swing, throw, and get active.

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Each year, the National Sports Center for the Disabled (NSCD) partners with Colorado’s professional sports teams for a series of free Ability Clinics—a chance for individuals with any kind of disability to learn about, and try, a sport. At the 2018 Denver Nuggets clinic, I overheard a little girl telling her mom she was nervous; that she didn’t feel like she was ready for the game or didn’t have the skills other kids had. The mom reassured her, and reminded her to just have fun.

An hour later, a young girl confidently dribbling a basketball caught my eye. It was the same girl who, a little while ago, was expressing her apprehension to her mom. Only now, she was practicing passing the basketball, and chatting with former Denver Nuggets player Ervin Johnson.

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“To see a child realize they can do something they thought they couldn’t do is incredibly rewarding,” says Diane Eustace the operations and communications director for NCSD, who calls sports a great equalizer. “Kids realize they can do [a sport] along with their able-bodied friends and family, and it really levels that playing field for them.”

NSCD has been creating adaptive sports opportunities for individuals with disabilities for 20 years. From skiing and snowboarding to rafting and paddle sports, the organization makes an active lifestyle accessible. For the ability clinics, NSCD partners with the Denver Nuggets, Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies, Denver Outlaws, and Colorado Avalanche.

At the Nuggets ability clinic, kids started out with stretching to calm them and get their muscles warmed up. Then, they rotated through stations where they practiced shooting or chest passes, played a short game of pickup, and learned other basic basketball skills. Along the way, participants were assisted by current Nuggets players Monte Morris and Jamal Murray and former Nuggets players Ervin Johnson and Mark Randall.

Through these interactive clinics, NSCD hopes to show kids and adults with disabilities that anyone can get active and see physical, mental, and social improvements. The ability clinics aren’t just for kids, either. Over the years, they have brought in participants ranging from five years old to 85 years old.

At the end of each clinic, the partner team gives kids and their families two tickets to an upcoming game, so they can see the sport live. Rockies and Rapids clinics are planned for the spring (watch the NSCD website for dates). The next confirmed clinic matches participants with the Denver Outlaws on June 15 to learn about, and try out, lacrosse.

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