•Vukuhambe teens in U23 wheelchair basketball squad
THREE athletes from Vukuhambe Special School have been selected for the South African U23 Wheelchair Basketball team which will head to the Men’s World Wheelchair Basketball Championships in Canada next year.
Yibanathi Xalisa, 17, Ayabonga Jim, 16, and Mava Mlomo, 16, are the only athletes selected from the Eastern Cape, following a legacy of outstanding players emerging from the school in Mdantsane.
They were selected during the summer games two months ago and have already attended a training camp in Johannesburg.
Mlomo, who was awarded player of the tournament at the recent Vodacom Challenge in June, said: “I have never been out the country before. I am so proud to represent my country in this team.
“I began playing three years ago and I love the sport. It keeps me busy. Before coming here, I was not aware that there was sport for people who are wheelchair-bound.”
Xalisa said: “I couldn’t believe it when I heard I had been selected. It is like a dream come true.”
Vukuhambe head of sport Xola Mambushe said: “They are a fast and skillful trio in comparison to others.
“They have all excelled in their category.
“I really think these three have the potential to go far.
“They need to market themselves and be seen by national selectors. In September, they are playing a friendly against Zimbabwe and then competing in the summer qualifiers for the SA Senior Team in Durban. It is their ultimate goal to make that [senior national] team.
“We are so proud of these players who show people from the outside that they can do the same as able-bodied people. The sporting fraternity and staff at large are very proud,” Mambushe said.
He listed a number of old scholars who have become successful including: Luvuyo Mbande and Mgcini Mzileni, who play professionally and have represented South Africa a number of times, and Lunga Wexu who coaches the local team.
Many successful old students return to the school to help with coaching and sustain the legacy of success.
Jim, Xalisa and Mlomo practice about four hours a week on the cracked and deteriorated outdoor basketball court at the school. They lend wheelchairs from the local team when they play in big matches because they cannot afford to buy new specialised wheelchairs costing about R24000 to compete at this level. Funding for the trip to Canada is also up in the air, as the school appeals the public for sponsorship.
Jim said he is excited for the tournament where he will be able to learn from the skills of other players from around the world and hopefully beat the competition.
The players say their shooting, communication and defence needs to improve before the competition and hope that more friendly matches can be arranged to assist in preparation.
If you are able to assist with funding for the trip to Canada or assist in the upgrade of basketball facilities at Vukuhambe, contact principal Sobantu Mankazana on (043) 761-2179.