Teams play in wheelchairs as tribute to student manager with spina bifida

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Joseph Brunelle’s life has not been easy. The 14-year-old manager of the Cumming (Ga.) Vickery Creek Middle School baketball team, Brunelle has lived his entire life in a wheelchair. He was born with spina bifida, a condition that has robbed him of the opportunity to compete in able-bodied sports.

Of course, that has never slowed him from competing in wheelchair basketball. Nor has it dampened his love of the game, with the eighth grader an ever-present around all the Vickery Creek boys basketball games.

Fittingly, at the end of the season, the team wanted to do something special to acknowledge Brunelle’s time as manager. As reported by Atlanta NBC affiliate and WXIA and USA Today, the Vickery Creek team decided to present Brunelle with a personal team jersey before the start of the fourth quarter of the team’s final game against Pinecrest (Ga.) Academy. That move alone was enough to earn huge smiles and cheers from the Brunelle family and the crowd, yet it was only the beginning of a massive tribute to the wheelchair-bound star.

What happened next reads like a Hollywood script. Players from both Vickery Creek and Pinecrest brought out wheelchairs and invited Brunelle to play with them. The wheelchairs had been loaned to the teams by the league in which Brunelle plays. Suddenly, rather than a traditional basketball game, the fourth quarter was competed as a wheelchair basketball game, all with fans in the stands and Brunelle himself stunned at the gesture.

"For a little bit I wasn't really sure what to think," Brunelle told WXIA. "It was probably pretty hard for [the other players] at first."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Brunelle was the star of the fourth quarter, scoring eight points for the Vickery Creek Vipers.

According to WXIA, the Vickery Creek team volunteered at Atlanta-area disabled-access sports center No Limits Sports earlier in the basketball season and were inspired by how well Brunelle played. That inspiration eventually led to motivation to play in wheelchairs themselves as a tribute, if only temporarily.

As one might expect, the tribute to the longtime team manager earned plaudits from all around, not least of all those who took part, who claimed that they would never approach basketball the same way again.

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