Watching Mobile Patriot Wheelchair Basketball Coach Stephenie Jeansonne organize her team of men players is highly instructional for those interested in using sport experiences as a vehicle for personal growth. Coaching any team requires personal insight, but her job is even more demanding. All coaches are bound by the necessity of choosing a coaching style and dealing with personal issues that are bound to arise during the course of the season. All these choices are magnified during sporting events of the physically challenged.
Mrs. Jeansonne is a United States Sports Academy DSA recipient for the year 2003. In watching her team practice and by conversing with the members, you come to realize how very deserving she is of the honor. All voiced their gratitude to her for assisting them through stressful situations, and helping them find the motivation to compete at their maximum while overcoming personal obstacles.
There are dozens of heart rendering and heart-breaking stories from any physically challenged team. It is part of the fabric of the experience. With the Patriots there is one tragedy transformed into a miracle of sorts that characterizes the plight and fortitude of those who play full hearted even with disabilities. The star forward and high scorer Bobby Heaton entered his senior year at Baker High School in Mobile, Alabama poised for scholarship offers and the wonderful prospect of being a floor leader for his hometown team. What occurred instead was devastatingly unexpected. Speaking about the occurrence with Bobby and his father at a Patriot’s practice session, it was hard not to choke up.
Taking down a tough but routine rebound during the first game of the season, Bobby fell back over another player to a loud thud on the gym’s wooden floor. He went to bed that night a little sore but not alarmed. The next morning he had trouble getting out of bed, and by the end of that day couldn’t move his legs. Even when rushed to the renowned Shepard Spine Clinic in Atlanta, the doctors couldn’t discover what was causing the paralysis. Fear, uncertainty and severe depression set in and Bobby became despondent. A person in the community recommended him to Jeansonne’s team, and the task of helping him and his family recover their spirit, and regain excitement about the game entered the broad shoulders of Coach Jeansonne’s.
The result for Bobby was that Coach Jeansonne’s healing personality transformed him from a great high school scholastic player into a stalwart world-class wheelchair athlete. He now has aspirations for making the US Olympic team for the 2004 Greek Games. As the team travels throughout the United States in quest of victory, Bobby’s leadership is apparent yet his story mostly goes unknown as each player struggles in his own way to make sense of sport in it’s own dimension. Physically challenged athletes and their coaches are true heroes. Next time you see a an advertisement for a game by physically challenged players, or an opportunity to follow the parolympics look carefully at the players and coaches and you will notice a wonderful synergy and all the drama, skill, and excitement of any sporting event. The resulting events are a wonder to behold.