Minnesota Sounds and Voices: Rose Hollermann, wheelchair basketball star

Paralympic basketball
Rose Hollermann, 16, of Elysian, Minn. communicates with teammates during a Jr. Rolling Timberwolves practice at Courage Center in Golden Valley, Minn., Dec. 20, 2011. Hollermann recently made the USA national wheelchair basketball team and will represent her country at the Paralympics this year in London.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Two Minnesota athletes learned this week they've been selected for the U. S. women's paralympic wheelchair basketball team. Rose Hollermann of rural Elysian in southern Minnesota and Sarah Binsfeld of Vadnais Heights will compete in London this summer.

Minnesota Sounds and Voices reporter Dan Olson, accompanied by multimedia journalist Jeffrey Thompson, recently spent some time on the court with 16-year-old Hollerman. (View an audio slideshow below about Hollermann and her sport).

Hollermann has been in a wheelchair since she was 5 years old. She, her mother and a brother lived through a car crash that killed her two older brothers. Her spinal cord was bruised in the crash, leaving her with a little mobility, enough to stand and take a few steps, but she spends most of her time in a wheelchair.

She doesn't complain. Being a wheelchair athlete has opened doors to new opportunities, she says. Almost from the moment she was injured, Hollermann took to sports. In junior high she excelled at track and field including discus, shot put and distance races. And she became a local- then national-level star in wheelchair basketball.

It's a tough sport, too. Hollerman's Courage Center Rolling Timberwolves coach, Doug Hixson, an able bodied, multi-sport athlete, says wheelchair basketball is the most difficult sport he's ever played.

"Your upper body is working almost independently of the chair, and you're handling the ball and you're spinning around and you have to watch the court and your chair at a very high level," he says.

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Running drills
Rose Hollermann, 16, of Elysian, Minn. races down the court during a practice drill at Courage Center in Golden Valley, Minn., Dec. 20, 2011. Hollermann recently made the USA national wheelchair basketball team and will represent her country at the Paralympics this year in London.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Wheelchair basketball was developed by American World War II veterans as part of their rehabilitation. The rules are broadly similar to able bodied basketball. The court is the same size, the basket is at the same height, and the scoring is identical.

There are 12 players in each team, with no more than five on court. Every player is assigned a point value based on their functional ability, 1.0 to 4.5. Players move the ball around the court by passing or dribbling, and are required to throw or bounce the ball after every two pushes of the wheels on their chairs to avoid being penalised for travelling.

The international association governing the sport says 70 countries have wheelchair basketball teams with most competing at the international level. The pro basketball circuit Hollermann is aiming for after college is well developed in Europe with dozens of teams from 26 countries. The sport started at the first paralympics in Rome in 1960. The women's competition was added at the Tel Aviv 1968 Games.

Hollermann is the youngest person in history to be selected for the U. S. women's team. And she says she's amazed at the achievements of some of her wheelchair basketball competitors. She faced an outstanding player who has no legs and one arm. Another has no hands but shoots with amazing accuracy.

"Eighty percent from inside the three point line and he doesn't have any hands so he can't do the follow through or anything, so I can't see how he can do that," she marvels.

A sophomore at Waterville-Elysian-Morristown High School, she wants to play basketball in college and eventually professional wheel chair basketball in Europe. Shorter term she wants to convince the Minnesota State High School League to let her and other disabled atheletes compete with able bodied athletes in a wider range of track and field events.