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Tyler Jenkins rolls onto his home court with competitive basketball team

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Tyler Jenkins reaches out and high-fives classmates at Woodward Elementary School during an exhibition of his Junior Wheel Blazers team.On his basketball team, Tyler Jenkins’ nickname is “Speedy.”

It’s easy to see why as the 8-year-old zips around corners at Mary Woodward Elementary School in Tigard.

Tyler was diagnosed with Transverse myelitis — an inflammation of the spinal column — when he was 9 months old and now uses a wheelchair.

He is the only wheelchair-bound student at Mary Woodward, but what some students may find to be a limitation, Tyler has turned into an advantage.

He is the newest member of the Jr. Wheel Blazers, a team of wheelchair basketball players.

Normally, the team travels across the West Coast playing against other wheelchair basketball teams, but on Friday, members of the team took to the court at Jenkins’ school to give a presentation about the sport and the team. by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Junior Wheel Blazers coach Laura Ridler accepts a check for $500 from the kids at Woodward Elementary for her team.

Speed demon

Tyler started playing on the team last October.

“I’m the youngest on the team,” Tyler said. “The rest of the kids are older than me. Like 10.”

The Jr. Wheel Blazers was founded three years ago. The team comprises of students as old as 18 and hail from all across the Portland area, said Tyler’s mother, Reina Jenkins. Students from as far away as Mt. Hood meet once a week in Portland for practice.

A nonprofit organization, the Jr. Wheel Blazers help pay for transportation to games for the players, as well as hotel costs and the cost to purchase athletic wheelchairs to compete with.

Wheelchairs made for playing sports can be expensive, said Becky Alvstad, a learning specialist at Mary Woodward, who planned Friday’s assembly

“Those wheelchairs cost between $1,700 and $3,000,” Alvstad said. “The team buys wheelchairs for people, as well as the jerseys, and cover travel costs. There is not a lot of money that the kids have to pay in order to play, and that’s pretty cool.”

The team has been teaching “Speedy” the rules of the game.

“It has been crazy fun,” Reina said. “The team is like a second family. It’s great to seem them running around together.”

The team’s season ended in April with a trip to the national championship in Kentucky, where the Jr. Wheel Blazers placed fifth.

Tyler’s teammates are all physically disabled. Some have been in accidents, others have spina bifida.

“You don’t see many kids in wheelchairs, so it’s a great opportunity for us to get to know other parents and kids who are dealing with this,” Reina said. “That’s the biggest thing for us, because it’s easy for Tyler to get down in the dumps a little bit when he can’t do what other kids can.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Junior Wheel Blazers member Josiah Schuremyer smiles after making a shot during an exhibition at Woodward Elementary School.

Big revelation

Reina said after joining the team last fall, Tyler has begun to open up more at school.

“He is much more comfortable and asks a lot of questions,” Reina said. “We always tell him that everyone has strengths. He has strengths that other kids can’t do.”

Tyler said he enjoys playing on the team because of the new friends he’s been able to make.

“My favorite thing about playing is stealing the ball and crashing,” Tyler shouted.

Until Friday, Tyler kept his basketball life a secret from the rest of his classmates. Friday was the big reveal to the student body, Tyler said.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be cool if they come and gave an assembly,’” Alvstad said. “He was Mr. Super Excited — he didn’t tell any of his friends so that it could be a surprise.”

Mary Woodward donated $500 to the Jr. Wheel Blazers and is asking families across the district to send in a donation to the nonprofit group.

“Our school is trying to support the team however we can, so they can keep doing what they do,” Alvstad said.

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