Rollin’ Hornets Cap Busy Season with National Title

By Sam Perley

More Coverage: Nic Batum Donate Wheelchairs

An eventful month for the Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets ended in the most spectacular of fashions this past weekend as the Junior Prep Team took home the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Championship (NWBA) in Louisville, KY.

This particular Rollin’ Hornets squad, comprised of athletes ages 9-13, defeated the Minnesota Rolling Rowdies, 32-26, for its first national title since 2009. Additionally, Head Coach Mike Godsey was honored with the David Ruback Legacy Award for his ongoing dedication and commitment to the NWBA.

It was a sensational finish to an up-and-down few weeks for the Rollin’ Hornets organization. Last month, one of the players on the team, nine-year-old Noah Lewis, lost his competition wheelchair when it was driven off in his grandmother’s stolen SUV.

Although an anonymous donor from the Carolina Panthers quickly helped finance a new one, Hornets shooting guard Nicolas Batum purchased another two sports wheelchairs for younger players on the team. Prior to the regular season home finale on April 8, Batum held a pregame meet-and-greet with a handful of the Rollin’ Hornets as they got ready to head to Louisville.

The NBA veteran has long been involved with wheelchair basketball ever since participating in a charity game in his native France roughly eight or nine years ago. Around Christmas 2016, he bought gifts and equipment for the organization and earlier this season, purchased three additional competition wheelchairs for the Rollin’ Hornets.

“Wheelchair basketball has been something big for me. I always try to support them. I started in France, I did it with the [Portland Trail] Blazers and since I got here,” said Batum after the team’s game on April 8. “I did it last year and this year, I tried to help them again. I heard the story when the guy stole the wheelchair a couple weeks ago. I met those kids this morning and we tried to show them some good times.”

Ultimately, it was some first-hand experience of the sport that convinced Batum to get involved with this particular cause throughout his NBA tenure.

“I played a full game and I didn’t notice how hard it was to play like that. Trust me, it’s not easy to play basketball in a wheelchair. That’s why I’m even more impressed by those kids,” he recalled. “After the game, I thought maybe I should be involved with it. It’s just basketball to me. It’s the same sport. It’s five-on-five. You have to put the basketball in the hoop. If I can support, I’m going to do it.” 

Founded in 2005 by three Charlotte area fathers of children with physical disabilities, the overall mission of the Rollin’ Hornets is to promote independence for both children and adults with physical disabilities while also providing opportunities to pursue active, healthy lifestyles in adaptive sports. The organization currently fields three junior and three adult wheelchair basketball teams that compete within the NWBA.

Also of note, three members of the team recently committed to continue playing wheelchair basketball at the collegiate level. Miles Hill will become the fourth Rollin’ Hornet alum to play for the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana this coming fall. Hill was also accepted to both the University of North Carolina and Duke University as well.

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Becker (Weddington High School) will be attending the University of Texas-Arlington. Becker, who made it to the final cut of the USA Women’s National Wheelchair Basketball Team selection process this year, will be joining a Lady Mavericks program that has won two of the last three NWBA Intercollegiate Championships. She will also be the fourth Rollin’ Hornet to play for UT-Arlington.

Jordan Chilton, who last played for the Rollin’ Hornets in 2013, recently joined the wheelchair basketball team at the University of Arizona in January.

“I encourage people on the outside to support them because what they’re doing right now is amazing with those kids. I’m really proud of them,” added Batum.

Additional information about the team can be found on the Rollin’ Hornets Facebook page or @RollinHornets on both Twitter and Instagram.