VERRANO BRIANZA, Italy (AP) – Students in four second-grade classes learned basketball from a professional this summer. They also learned other life lessons.
His instructor during the month of May was Adolfo Damián Berdún, Italian wheelchair basketball champion from Argentina. Berdún, 39, lost his left leg in a car accident when he was 13 years old in his native Buenos Aires, but he excelled as a basketball player in a wheelchair and visits schools where he talks about how he coped with his disability.
This time, when he arrived at the school in a Milan suburb, Berdún wanted to be considered just a technician.
It was the first time that he had fulfilled that function. He rejected the proposal to film a presentation video and the first day he appeared in his wheelchair, without anyone knowing anything about him.
“Every time a new class came, they looked at me with their mouths open, as if wanting to ask questions,” said Berdún. “I told them they could ask questions later, that in principle we were going to play basketball.”
The director of the sports association that organized the five-week program remembers that first meeting perfectly. Berdún made a simple presentation and asked: “’Do you want to run?’ They all said yes, and he ordered: ‘Run,’ ”Elena Sandre recounted. They all ran off, eager for some action after an academic year in which they had almost no contact with the sport.
Over the course of five weeks the boys learned to handle the ball and shoot the basket. Few passes were due to restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. They lined up to exercise and had fun on a slalom track in the gym. Berdún hung two rings on both sides of the board for the boys who could not reach the basket with their shots.
Sandre met Berdún while working as a journalist, when he covered the chair basketball tournament in Italy. First in Rome, then in Sardinia and finally when he arrived in Lombardy, where he plays for the UnipolSai Briantea84 Cantù club. The team was crowned champion this year and Berdún was voted the best player of the tournament. At 39, he is still a member of the Argentine national team, but he will not go to the Tokyo Paralympics because the team did not qualify.
Sandre says that he thought of Berdún for classes not because of his disability, but because of the descent he has over his teammates in all the teams he played for.
“If you see him play, you realize that he is a coach. Lead the team. He is a leader ”, he expressed. And he had no trouble controlling boisterous seven-year-olds.
“I didn’t think that in a wheelchair, with so many kids, I would feel so good,” Berdún said.
Although Berdún refrained from talking about his disability until the last day, the boys had learned a lesson in tolerance and acceptance. Sandre says that the boys’ parents comment on social media that they feel “privileged” that their children have had the opportunity to learn from an athlete with a disability.
At their farewell, the boys gave Berdún drawings they had made.
“But the most beautiful thing was that we managed to break the barrier between the coach with one leg, in a wheelchair, and the ideal coach,” said Berdún.
“How do I know? Because after they asked me a couple of questions, they told me if we could go on with basketball practice. That means they were more interested in playing than in knowing why I have only one leg. “
Barry reported from Milan.