Challenger program hits the hardwood

Michael Steadman loves basketball, but a physical handicap prevents him from being more than a student assistant coach on the Shaker High School varsity boys basketball team.

Now, Steadman has another outlet to showcase his basketball knowledge and help other children facing physical and emotional handicaps, thanks to Colonie Youth Center's new Shooting Stars Challenger Basketball League. The program gives people age 5 to 21 a chance to play basketball with the help of volunteers such as Steadman.

This is very fun, said Steadman. "I can't express this. If you stand here and watch them, they already have a lot of skills. They can dribble, they can pass and they can shoot. And when they make a basket, they look back with the biggest smiles on their faces."

The 10-week program is the brainchild of retired North Colonie special education teacher Gail Wrieden, who has also started challenger programs in Colonie for baseball, soccer and bowling.

"I wanted to keep them going in sports through the winter," said Wrieden. "A lot of the kids that are here are also part of the challenger baseball, soccer and bowling leagues."

"She came to us in mid November and said, 'I have an idea. I'd like to start a challenger basketball league.' And we said, 'How soon can you start?'" said Nikki Caruso, Colonie Youth Center interim executive director.

Right away, as it turned out. Within a month, registration forms became available. By the time the first session took place Jan. 5 at Sand Creek Middle School, 34 children were signed up.

"I expected (a large group for the first session) because (challenger) baseball started with 30 (children), and now it's up to 51," said Wrieden. "These are a lot of the same kids."

Nancy Tetreault of Colonie didn't hesitate to sign her 7-year-old son, Brian, up for the challenger basketball program. He was already playing in Wrieden's baseball, soccer and bowling programs, as well as the Albany Cougars " a hockey program for people of all ages with physical and emotional handicaps.

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