“Wheelchair basketball is a wimpy sport.” This is what many people assume when they see Jake Schmalzriedt and his 12 team mates coming into UNM Johnson Gym’s basketball court to shoot some hoops.
Jake Schmalzriedt, 36, has been playing wheelchair basketball on and off for 11 years, seven of which have been for Albuquerque’s local wheelchair basketball team, The Kings.
“Yeah, we are disabled but it’s a very aggressive and fast pace sport. It’s just as exciting if not more exciting than regular basketball,” Schmalzriedt said.
People who haven’t seen wheelchair basketball before are in awe when they see Schmalzriedt and his team mates perform at such a high skill level, he said.
“Then they see it and they realize what a sport it is, the kind of skill and strength it takes to play the game,” he said.
When Schmaltzriedt is on the court he feels alive.
“It is a very freeing sport and your spirit just kind of gets lifted every time you play basketball,” he said.
Patricia Miller, 65, is the oldest and only female player on the team for the past five years.
“I love it!” she said. “Bumping into other chairs, and blocking the guys, and pulling up behind them and knocking the ball out of their hands." It is a very aggressive sport which brings in a lot of able-bodied audience members to cheer for their team, she said.
The Kings practice on Saturdays from 12 pm until 2 pm at UNM’s Johnson Gym. Newcomers of all ages are welcome to join with any lower limb disability, from “paraplegic and amputation, all the way down to a torn meniscus," Schmalzriedt said.
The Kings are one of 185 teams that compete for rankings in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, according to The Kings’ website.
After The Kings host their first tournament in Albuquerque this weekend, Schmalzriedt said he hopes they earn a place on the national top 20 list.
“Just because I’m the organizer of the tournament, I just hope it goes over without any major hitches, and that all the teams enjoy Albuquerque and enjoy the tournament and come back next year if we do it again,” Schmalzriedt said. “But as a team, I hope we play really well and kick everybody’s butt.”
Teams from Utah, currently ranked fourth best team nationwide, Pheonix, Denver, both in the top 20, and Tuscon, are coming to Albuquerque to play in the tournament.
“I’m looking forward to playing Utah because they’re tough,” he said. “We want the good competition.”
When Schmalzriedt is not on the court, he enjoys skiing in Santa Fe and works as a doctor in oriental medicine.
The tournament this weekend, February 20th and 21st, is open to the public with free admission and will be held at Albuquerque Job Corp. The Kings will be playing on Saturday at 12 pm and at 3 pm, as well as on Sunday from 8 am to 11 am. For more information visit The Kings’ website.