Every month, Cincinnati Parent spotlights an organization in the area that’s affecting positive change. The Cincinnati Dragons is a wheelchair basketball team for kids ages 5-17. Founded by double amputee and former Paralympian Jacob Counts, the Dragons travel the Midwest competing in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Cincinnati Parent spoke with Counts to learn more about the team and what it offers its young players.
Why did you start the Cincinnati Dragons?
When I was injured in 1993 at the age of 13, there weren’t many opportunities for kids with disabilities to play sports, especially competitive sports. I started playing wheelchair basketball for a team in Cincinnati when I was 19. I got pretty good at it and played in college for four years. After that I joined Team USA for 4 years, and then played professionally in Italy for 5 years. When I moved back to the Cincinnati area in 2013, I saw that not a whole lot had changed in terms of competitive adaptive sports. There was a great hockey program called the Cincinnati Icebreakers, but there wasn’t a wheelchair basketball program. That’s what motivated me to start a team.
How did you begin the program?
The first thing we did was to start a non-profit called the Greater Cincinnati Adaptive Sports Club. From there we knew that our first program would be wheelchair basketball. We did a lot of outreach, talked to schools and hospitals to try to get the word out about our basketball team. The very first practice we had 8 kids show up. This season we have 22 players.
Who coaches the team and where does the team play?
We have two teams, a Prep Team and a Varsity Team. I coach our little kids on the Prep Team and Ian Lynch coaches the middle and high school Varsity Team. Ian is an accomplished basketball player and won a gold medal in Rio last summer in wheelchair basketball. He’s one of the elite players of the world.
We play in the Midwestern Conference, so we travel the Midwest a lot. We play in Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Chicago and Dayton. We are fortunate because the national tournament has been in Louisville the last couple of years.
How can the community support the Cincinnati Dragons?
First and foremost, we need help spreading the word and letting kids know about the opportunity to play wheelchair basketball. Our team has grown, but I know there are some kids falling through the cracks that are perfect candidates for wheelchair basketball.
We could also use help with our travel budget. Our philosophy is that we don’t feel it should cost our parents and families more for their kids to play sports than their typical peers playing in a YMCA league. But for us to play teams, we have to travel to different cities, so we can always use funds for equipment and travel.
How does being a member of the Cincinnati Dragons benefit kids on the team?
Disabled kids benefit from all of the things that any kid would, and we all benefit through sports. You learn how to work together, you learn how to compete, and you learn how to work hard. That’s one side of what we are trying to offer. We also want the kids to have that social component. The team is a great resource as far as learning independence and learning all the tricks that make living with a disability easy. The kids and their parents get to be around other people going through the same thing. It’s nice for a kid with a disability to be able to come into the gym and not be different at all.
Want to find out more about the Cincinnati Dragons? Check out their website at www.cincinnatidragons.com.