Herb Henry should have been a part of some of the most memorable Louisville football moments of all-time.
As a freshman fullback in 1991, Henry recorded statistics in nine games, carrying the ball 38 times for 138 yards and catching seven passes for 21 yards. But Henry wasn’t on the field a year later when the Cardinals came up one-point short on the road against Ohio State, and he didn’t carry the ball once when UofL took down Michigan State in 1993.
In January 1992, near the start of his second semester of college, Henry attended a party at UofL’s Red Barn. Shortly after midnight, gunfire rang out. Two bullets hit Henry, one near his lung and then other near his spine. The second left him paralyzed from the waist down. He was 18 years old at the time.
Henry’s initial instinct was to deny the reality of his situation. He set a goal of not just walking, but returning to the football field and completing his college career. When he began the rehab that he thought would be able to make this happen, the gravity of just how significantly his life had been altered finally began to set in.
“That was a really tough transition,” Henry says. “It really didn’t hit me until my first time in rehab when I was trying to sit up and keep my balance on my own. I was used to being a guy who could get something done when someone told me to get it done, and now I couldn’t sit up on the edge of the bed without falling over. That’s when I really broke down and had to readjust and get back to learning how to live all over again.”
The support of friends and family helped Henry adjust to his new life, but there was still something missing. Henry was in the prime of his athletic career when he lost the use of his legs. All of that competitive fire and energy festered inside of him with no outlet until nearly a decade after his accident. That’s when Henry discovered wheelchair basketball.
From March 30 until April 2, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) National Tournament will take over the Kentucky Exhibition Center. Henry will be one of the more than 1,000 athletes taking part in the event.
“The game is the same, but it’s a lot more of a team concept in wheelchair basketball,” Henry explains. “If you don’t set the proper picks and screens, you’ll never be able to get open.”
Louisville has hosted the four-day national championship, which is the largest wheelchair sporting event in the world, every year since 2012. The event is estimated to have a $1.4 million economic impact on the city. The 2017 tournament is set to feature more than 80 teams from across the country, featuring players of all ages. The backstories vary from player to player, but it’s the shared competitive spirit and the love of basketball that the entire city of Louisville is familiar with that brings everyone together.
“Louisville is a basketball-centric location and provides the best platform for the NWBA to showcase all aspects of wheelchair basketball,” says Jim Scherr, NWBA executive director. “The Louisville Sports Commission is committed to helping the NWBT reach its full potential.”
The opening days of the 2017 NWBT will see preliminary games played simultaneously on 18 side-by-side courts. “Championship Sunday” will then take place on April 2, when the top two teams in each division will square off to determine who will get to carry the title of national champion around with them for the next 12 months.
In addition to hosting this year’s tournament, the NWBT has also announced that the event will be returning to Louisville in 2018. That year, the tournament will be celebrating its 70th anniversary.
“Having hosted the tournament for the past four years, we’ve seen firsthand how it showcases active lifestyle that is accessible to everyone, regardless of challenges,” says Karl Schmitt Jr., president and CEO of the Louisville Sports Commission. “This event offers local economic benefits and is a chance for our community to come out and watch world-class athletes in action.”
Few cities in America embrace basketball, competition and resiliency as thoroughly as Louisville does. All three of those things will once again be on full display this spring when the NWBT comes to town. VT