Walking and hiking. That’s how I exercise. I don’t spend money on shin guards or helmets, and I don’t have to worry about bringing my team down because I am too slow, I missed the easy shot or I left a player on base.
After a visit to the Bankshot court in Rockville’s Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park in King’s Farm, I am adding basketball to my repertoire. Imagine basketball without the running or the competitive desire to win at all costs. Imagine shooting baskets, only thinking about angles or how hard or soft to swish the ball and not worrying about someone trying to steal the ball right out of your hands. Then imagine playing with anyone and everyone, whether they have a physical or emotional disability or are not the so-called athletic type.
Rabbi Reeve Brenner of Congregation Bet Chesed in Bethesda created Bankshot, a variation on basketball in which a player competes against a course rather than other players. He is the only rabbi he knows with his own line of basketballs.
What began as a way to help a cousin who was injured in an automobile accident has grown to include more than 300 basketball courts across the world, including the United States, Israel, South Korea, Kuwait and Germany.
A child with disabilities “used to be marginalized outside the playground. Now he’s marginalized inside that playground,” Brenner says.
Most playgrounds have a special swing for children with disabilities — and that’s about it. During team sports, inclusion has come to mean having the child with disabilities wave the flag at the finish line, he says. “He’s still in a wheelchair by himself, watching everyone.”
This problem continues for adults. That is why Brenner says he is particularly proud that several military bases — including the Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in the District — have Bankshot courts. His first court was built at Israel’s Soldier’s House, a facility where those disabled in combat can recover.
But with Bankshot basketball, which can be found in Rockville at the Jewish Community Center, the Rockville Swim Center and Montrose Park and in several schools in Manassas, Va., a person in a wheelchair has the same chance of succeeding as any other player.
All that is needed to make a sport inclusive is a smooth and level floor, action that takes place above a person’s head and an intent to play as playmates rather than opponents, Brenner explains.
Each basketball station has three circles where a player must shoot the ball; the farther from the basket, the greater the number of points received. At each station, a red label explains what must be done. Usually it’s something like, “bank the ball on the yellow board to make the ball drop into one net and continue into another net.” Sometimes a player must shoot high above a line in order for the ball to then drop into the basket.
Some of Bankshot’s stations are designed for right-handed people followed by a similar challenge for the left-handed. What the stations do have in common is their art work. Brenner had such artists as Joan Miro, Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock in mind when he designed his courts. Some of his fiberglass backboards have been displayed in the Israel National Museum in Jerusalem and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
“Sports are all about defeating others. You don’t play for self-improvement. You play to win,” Brenner says. There are exceptions, like golf and bowling, where players strive to improve their scores without regard to the scores of the other players. This self-improvement and the lack of needing to field a whole team before play can begin is what Brenner believes Bankshot addresses.
“All sizes, ages and disabilities can do it. There is immediate access. You don’t have to wait for a program. Most kids with disabilities have to wait for a program, but here he can go out with a friend, a brother and just play,” says Brenner, who is busily working on incorporating these requirements for the sports of tennis, pitch and throw and soccer.
Brenner says he is not in the Bankshot business to make money. His enjoyment comes when he watches players at one of his courts: “When I see a kid, wheelchair or otherwise, developmentally disabled or not, when I see a kid out in a Bankshot court playing with such intensity, it’s as good a feeling as you can get. It’s on the level of delivering a good High Holiday sermon.”