The University of Southern Mississippi Technology Learning Center (TLC) Golden Eagles wheelchair basketball team is once again conference champions after winning the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Gulf Coast Conference Championship March 8 at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, La.
Ranked 16th in the nation, the team will now travel to Louisville, Ky. to compete in the 2014 NWBA national championships April 2 – 6. Golden Eagle Blake Loftin of Mobile, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player (MVP), said the team is looking forward to the national championships. “We have a strong chance going into the national championship and we intend to represent ourselves well,” he said.
Being named MVP, Loftin credits his teammates for earning the game’s honor. “It’s easy to excel when everyone on the team does what they are supposed to,” he said. “In this game, everyone did their job, so our practice, preparation and hard work paid off.”
The conference tournament featured four teams from sSutheast states vying for the conference championship title. In the final round, the Golden Eagles played a tough game against the New Orleans Rollin’ Pelicans.
“Despite missing two of our strong players in the championship game, the Golden Eagles still showcased physicality, passion and eagerness,” said Ashley-Nicole Ross Flowers, manager and coach for the Golden Eagles team. “The New Orleans Rollin’ Pelicans fought hard the first half of the championship game, only trailing by two points going into the half. But after halftime, the Golden Eagles rolled onto the floor and increased the spread making it a 13-point game. Our team has really shown they are ready for the national competition in April.”
Members of the Southern Miss Golden Eagles wheelchair basketball team for the 2013-2014 season include Loftin, Chad Seaman, Edward Barnard, Collin Lazey, Claire Buchanan, Kevin Galloway, Allen Champagne and Mitch Osterberger. The team, which has featured a variety of members over the years, first began in 2011.
Prior to their championship win, the basketball team partnered with other organizations to host the 2014 Ballin in the Bayou Wheelchair Basketball Tournament in Bayou La Batre, Ala. Partnering with the city to host the tournament, the TLC was able to utilize the help of more than 100 volunteers for more than 45 individuals with disabilities who participated in the tournament.
“It feels amazing to be able to showcase wheelchair basketball in smaller communities,” said Flowers. “Our team and organization were very excited to show people what wheelchair basketball is all about.”
In addition to being home of the Golden Eagles wheelchair basketball team, TLC serves children and adults with disabilities through assistive technology, evaluation, consultation and recreation. Located on the university’s Gulf Park campus in Long Beach, TLC is part of the Southern Miss Institute for Disability Studies, Mississippi’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Research, Education and Service.
For more information the TLC and the Golden Eagles wheelchair basketball team, visit www.usm.edu/gulfcoast/technology-learning-center.