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Grand Rapids-based women's wheelchair basketball team prepares for nationals

The women's team is fairly new and this year they've received a grant to pay for uniforms and travel, including their upcoming trip to Alabama.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Mary Free Bed YMCA is buzzing with activity on a Thursday night. Beyond the treadmills and other various exercise machines are the basketball courts where a group of 12 women are about to work on their skills.

"All of these young women are very successful. We have two ladies in high school. They're very successful. They're leaders. They do well academically. All the way up through all of our women on the team who hold down jobs and are married. They're very successful people," said Christy Vanhaver who serves as a sports coordinator for the Mary Free Bed Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports program.

Among the stars on this team is Brittany Yeomans. She lived a very active lifestyle before being paralyzed in a motorcycle accident 10 years ago, and she wanted to maintain that active lifestyle.

"I've always been an athlete and so I tried years ago when I first got injured, and I was kind of discouraged because I wasn't very good," she said.

But this young lady, wearing a black cutoff Nike shirt bearing the words "WON'T BE CAUGHT" refuses to be stopped. She returned to the court within the last year and as her game started to improve, so did her confidence both on and off the court.

"I've been willing to take more chances because the reward from stepping out and doing something, it's just encouraging. It makes you want to just go out and try new things and see what the result is. I mean, anything that you do, you put in the work, and you're going to reap the results," she said.

Brittany and many of the other women on the team also play co-ed basketball, which is a little different and can come with it's own challenges. Vanhaver says some women don't get the opportunity to shoot in the co-ed game because no one will pass to them. Others spend significant time on the bench.

"They're just playing different roles than how they play on a co-ed team," Vanhaver said.

Recently, though the women formed their own team.

"This women's team, it was something that came in after budget time, and we really needed someone to step up and help us with a budget," Vanhaver said.

The team turned to the Get To Foundation. It's an organization 13 ON YOUR SIDE first profiled back in August. It's named after Muskegon native Ben Jones, who saw his obligations as things he got to do. He passed away in a car accident in 2020 and ever since then, the Get To Foundation has been helping people carry on his "get to" attitude.

"The grants committee, as soon as we saw the Mary Free Bed opportunity come across, we were very excited about the chance to hopefully help out," said Joe Glendening with the Get To Foundation.

"There are two kinds of grant applicants that we give a really hard look. One is they have a barrier to play and we really think that 'get to' message will resonate with them if we allow them to 'get to.' And then there's the other, which I think Mary Free Bed probably more closely aligns with. And that's an organization that embodies exactly what 'get to' is. You don't have to tell the participants here that 'hey you get to practice.' They already know."

A grant from the Get To Foundation has already paid for uniforms for the team. It will also help with travel expenses.

Credit: Facebook/Get To Foundation

"Saturday we'll go down to Illinois to play other women's teams, and then at the end of April, we'll go down to Birmingham, Alabama for women's nationals," Vanhaver said.

The Get To Foundation has provided $25,000 in grants in the past year to organizations like Mary Free Bed, the Whitecaps Community Foundation, the Griffins Youth Foundation, and the Boys & Girls Club of the Muskegon Lakeshore.

To keep supporting these programs, they occasionally hold fundraisers like the We Get To Raffle coming up on Saturday, March 18 at the Waddell Center on Taylor Avenue in Grand Rapids. You can also make a donation directly on their website.

As for Mary Free Bed, you can visit their website to learn more about and support their Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports programs. Yeomans says people who may have thought about playing should give it a try.

"Everybody's here to encourage you. That's been something that I've learned. I started in October and I came in with no confidence, and now I get into my chair and come out here to play. I would encourage somebody to put their fear aside and come out and do it, because it's so rewarding," she said.

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