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Wheelchair basketball attracts Air Force wounded warriors' biggest fans

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Devon Suits
  • Air Force News Service
After a disappointing loss against the Navy, the Air Force wheelchair basketball team stood poised to start fresh in their game against the U.S. Special Operations Command the 2014 Warrior Games here Sept. 30.

“Defense wins championships,” said Mo Phillips Jr, the assistant coach for the Air Force team. With every win or loss effecting their medal contention, the Air Force stepped up their game, showing they can play at a championship level.

Out the gate, the Air Force team dominated the first half of basketball. Their speed and size proved to be too much for SOCOM.

“The first half of this game, the (Air Force) did a great job as a team defensively and that why we are ahead 16-6,” Phillips said.

On the court, the Air Force team showed why they should to move on to the next round, but off the court, some of the team’s biggest fans cheered them on.

In attendance for the game was Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, and the Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody.

“I am so honored to be able to be a spectator and to cheer on all the teams, but more specifically our Air Force team at the Warrior Games,” James said. “My spirits are soaring after seeing the great contributions, camaraderie and the great competition that is going on … between the services.”

At the start of the second half, the Air Force continued to dial in the pressure as they took the win 29-12.

“The game went really well,” said retired Master Sgt. Kyle Burnett. “We had a rough start last night (against the Navy) … and we decided we need to communicate. We need to play as a team and we want to win the gold.”

Burnett, the only female on the Air Force wheelchair basketball team, discussed how the Warrior Games have helped her recover from her post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There is stuff going on all around me so I have to be able to concentrate. I have to be able to knock out those distractions, especially now that we have crowds," she said. "A year ago there is no way. All those noises would have been too much and my anxiety would have been so high that I would have to leave.”

James said she understands how important these games are for all of the athletes competing.

“I think sports are a great avenue for getting a person to come out of themselves, out of whatever their troubles are,” she said. “We all need something bigger than ourselves to participate in, to believe in. It’s about athleticism and doing your very best.

“I see good wingmen here. People are supporting across service lines toward recovery and the next stages in life.”