“As a former player, being around basketball is part of my DNA and I think it is with these players as well,” said Cartwright, who is long-time friends with Pelican Playhouse director Ralph Wakefield, which is where the Miami Heat Wheels/Miami Springs connection came in. “The way I see it, it’s not about their disability so much is it’s about their ability. They are some of the hardest-working athletes you will ever see.”
“It’s all about the love of the game,” said 28-year-old Dirrick Hughes, now in his 11th season playing for the Heat Wheels after graduating from Carol City High School a decade ago and who has been wheelchair-confined most of his life. “My stepdad played a lot of basketball, so I was around it all the time and then one of my teachers at Carol City introduced me to wheelchair basketball and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Then, of course, came the inevitable question to Cartwright about money because nothing like this happens for free. In fact, the event itself was free for Springs residents to attend.
“Wherever we can get it,” said Cartwright, who was recently honored when he learned he will coach the NWBA’s East Team at the upcoming NBA All-Star weekend in Houston Feb. 22-24. “Miami-Dade County helps a little, we apply for written grants, there is the United Way and Leisure Access Foundation, but for the most part we just get out there and do plenty of fundraisers ourselves.”
When asked if the Miami Heat pitched in, Cartwright worked to be as politically correct as he could.
“A little bit as they allow us to wear their logo and colors but we could always use a little more,” said Cartwright. “At the moment our funds pretty much keep us limited to in-state tournaments but hopefully things will get better down the road.”
In the meantime, if any Springs residents would like to come out and see these amazing individuals, they may do so any time they want. That’s because, thanks to the generosity of the City of Miami Springs, the Heat Wheels can be seen practicing every Saturday afternoon in the Community Center gym.
“We really appreciate the City of Miami Springs reaching out to help us out,” said Cartwright. “We’ve been practicing here for the last year and a half or so and everyone has been wonderful.”
Anyone wishing to help out may
visit their Facebook page at Facebook.com/HeatWheels.