Part of the team

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Denton firefighters David Hickman, left, and Ben Jackson, right, put defensive pressure on Army Sgt. David Nichols during Project INVEST’s “Battle of the Backboards” Tuesday at the TWU Fitness and Recreation Center gymnasium.
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TWU organization brings veterans out for some ball and into the community

Wheels were spinning on the basketball court Tuesday as military veterans and first responders played in the first “Battle of the Backboards” as part of a program at Texas Woman’s University to offer opportunities for veterans to get back into the community.

Injured veterans from Fort Hood and fire department personnel from Denton and Flower Mound, using specially designed wheelchairs, faced off on the court at the TWU Fitness and Recreation Center as part of Project INVEST — Injured Veterans Entering Sport Training.

And while the firefighters might have beaten the Warrior Transition Brigade in the final game of the afternoon, getting a chance to come out and play was worth it for the six men who ventured from Fort Hood.

Army Staff Sgt. Richard Sterling, who has a fractured ankle, said he recently came back from Afghanistan and has served in the military for 13 years.

“I just came out of my boot and hope to return to duty soon,” he said. “Right now I am just making the best of it.”

Jermaine Wilson, one of 13 Denton firefighters who volunteered to play Tuesday, said that while basketball is a hobby of his, playing in a wheelchair is a whole different ballgame.

“I was more excited about this than playing Saturday night [in Midnight Hoops],” said Wilson, a firefighter/paramedic. “I want to give my respect to the soldiers. This is tough work, but fun.”

Capt. Mike Baldree, one of seven participants from the Flower Mound Fire Department, said he is looking forward to working alongside Project INVEST for many more events down the road. He said it was a privilege to be able to play with the veterans.

Project INVEST organizer Ron Davis, a kinesiology professor, said the program is designed not only to offer opportunities for injured veterans to play paralympic sports but also to gain more community involvement from veterans through an array of recreational activities.

“It’s a way for an injured warrior to join the community and not stay at home,” Davis said. “Our biggest challenge so far is we just have a hard time getting veterans to commit and come out.”

Serving injured, ill and wounded military personnel by offering adaptive sports and activities at various venues and locations throughout North Texas helps train the students at TWU, who are taking a class on adaptive sport activities so they, too, can assist in helping shape the future, Davis said

“A child came out today from Decatur because he saw the information in the newspaper,” he said. “His school doesn’t offer an adaptive program. What the students here are learning is how to help start school-based programs.”

The program recently got a boost — a $25,000 grant from Heritage Health Solutions as part of a yearlong sponsorship. The Flower Mound company is a small business run by CEO James Rosengren, a 25-year military veteran, who provides pharmacy services to veterans.

Veteran Bill Sullivan, the owner of Denton Health and Fitness, also joined in the game.

“I am willing to help however I need to — this is a great program and a wonderfully conducted event,” Sullivan said. “I am part of Red, White and Blue, which does something similar, but this program [Project INVEST] takes it even a step further.”

Sullivan, who served in the Marines until 1987, when he moved to Denton, said teamwork is consistent in all branches of the military but when veterans get home, they are often alone.

“This group plugs you back into the community and makes you feel part of the team again,” he said.

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.

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