By: Ryan Kelley, Contributing Writer
OSWEGO, NY – The sixth annual “Shoot for the Stars” 3-on-3 wheelchair basketball tournament will again feature the Heroes Game between the Oswego Firefighters and Police on April 26 at Leighton Elementary School.
Callen and his colleagues run youth and adult basketball leagues, as well as a very large sled hockey league in partnership with USA Hockey.
Callen, who was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident nearly 10 years ago, saw his physical limitation as an opportunity rather than a disability.
“I saw an opportunity to create something that would be not only beneficial to the individuals who physically needed it, but an opportunity to educate others on inclusion in working with others no matter what the atmosphere,” said Callen.
The Heroes Game is set up so that the Oswego Fire and Police departments play against each other, but each side is also joined by a few people with experience playing in a wheelchair.
According to Don Dowd, assistant fire chief, who has participated in the event over the years, it is an enjoyable challenge competing with these individuals.
“I have no ability shooting from a wheelchair and it is very much a challenge,” Dowd said. “I am amazed at the skills that these guys who play in a wheelchair display, whether it be dribbling or shooting. I’m the handicapped person at that point.”
Over the past six years since its creation, the “Shoot for the Stars” tournament has grown considerably.
According to Callen, there were about 26 teams the first year ranging from 8-year-olds to 60-year-olds, divided into an adult and a youth division.
This year they expect to have 64 teams divided into three divisions.
Support from members of the community in the audience has also steadily increased and people from outside of the Oswego area have even traveled here to participate and show their support for the cause.
According to Lt. Charles Searor of the Oswego Police Department, this has been the most noticeable difference in the event over the years.
“I think after six years the word is out that this is a great event,” Searor said. “It’s something different and it’s fun to get out and play hoops in a wheelchair and get a different perspective.”
This growth goes hand in hand with the amount of money they have been able to raise.
Since most of the money comes from the entry fee for the tournament, more teams signing up provides more money for the foundation.
Callen said that the first year he set up the event they were able to raise $7,000. But, with the amount of growth they have seen he hopes to raise more than $20,000 this year.
According to Searor, there are also silent auctions, raffles, a chicken barbeque and other fundraising avenues that take place at the tournament.
Searor also mentioned that even though it brings out the competitiveness in them, they haven’t really been keeping track of who has won more between the fire and police departments.
“It’s usually close every year, but we just go out and take part and enjoy the festivities,” Searor said. “It’s just a nice little inter-department competition between the two agencies.”
One of the most important factors in Move Along Inc.’s success with this tournament is that the staff is made up entirely of volunteers.
Callen said that this allows them to use all of the money that is raised for purchasing more wheelchairs or sleds, as well as operational costs for other events that they hold.
They are always looking for more volunteers who have experience in event planning, sports, graphic design and working with children and disabled persons.
Callen said that the valuable life lessons he was able to learn through playing sports all his life before his injury, and even after it, are what he really wants to share with the children involved in his programs.
“What I like the most about the event is the fact that we’re engaging young adults that never thought that they’d have the opportunity to compete before,” Callen said. “For 29 years I was playing sports and I learned so much about life skills and values through my coaches and mentors in athletics, and I really saw a void in these young kids that are born with physical limitations not having that opportunity.”