ROCKVILLE – Dr. Reeve Brenner and the City of Rockville hosted Bankshot Basketball for All, an event for community members to come out and play ball at the Bankshot Court in Mattie J.T. Stepanek Park in King Farm on Aug. 17.
The event brought autistic groups from Community Support Services and the nonprofit Guardians of Sport to play together for an afternoon.
Brenner grew up playing basketball with his cousin, who after an automobile accident lived in a wheelchair. In adulthood and elderhood, Brenner, frustrated by the aggressive and exclusive nature of contact sports and inspired by his childhood with his cousin, founded Bankshot, a style of basketball based on “universal design,” and inclusive of all abilities and disabilities.
“If you have shared commons, it ought to start with universal design,” said Brenner. “That means you have to provide facilities and venues that everyone can use.”
The style of Bankshot resembles miniature golf, with 19 baskets that increase in difficulty but are based on strategy and personal ability. Players must use the basket and backboard to their advantage to get the ball through the hoop. The court is also stationary, meaning it does not require any legwork to play.
The design gathers the baskets in the middle of the court so that players face the center and promote interaction. It is a partially fenced-in space, so balls do not bounce away, but remains a welcoming and open space.
Brenner also related Bankshot courts to swimming pools, which offer varying depths for people with different abilities and skills to swim in.
“What happens is when you play opponents, you eliminate people,” said Brenner. “The word ‘healthy competition’ is an oxymoron. Competition is not healthy.”
Eliminating competition and promoting accessibility in sports became Brenner’s motivation for creating Bankshot in 1981, called by the United Nations the International Year of Disabled Persons. The company has since posted courts across the country, and in Israel, Kuwait, Korea, Japan and, most recently, Togo.
Guardians of Sport, a nonprofit dedicated to organizing sports in communities with limited access, came to the Bankshot for All event to help and helping autistic and disabled groups as they played the game.
“(Disabled people) may not be able to play with other kids as easy, but then they come here and have a great time,” said Anthony Brown, CFO of Guardians of Sport. “I mean, look at them. They’re having a great time.”
“A lot of people don’t even realize how much sports does for a human being,” Brown added.
To support the universal and accessible design and strengthen his mission outside of Bankshot, which is for-profit, Brenner also founded the National Association of Recreational Equality (NARE) in 1997. Richard Schimel became CEO of NARE just at the beginning of this year.
“The objective is to expand the opportunities of this community, no matter what,” said Schimel.
Though Rockville as a city owns two Bankshot courts, the county owns none. To change that, Schimel has been working with Councilmember Gabe Albornoz, who used to be the county’s head of parks and recreation.
Brenner has also been petitioning the county to return a Bankshot court that they removed from the Rockville Swim Center.
Outside of the Saturday event, Community Support Services uses the court weekly to hold activities for their child and adult programs.
Craig Roberts, director of adult recreation services at Community Support Services, said; “They’re learning a skill. People feel a sense of accomplishment when they can master Goal 1 or get over to Goal 12 and make the shot. People recognize their own development and are pleased with themselves.”
“These opportunities becoming available is a really good thing,” Roberts said. “People need exposure to it.”
Brenner, 81-years-old, cited his age as a disability when it came to competitive sports. But in Bankshot, he shines, spinning a ball in one hand to the excitement of the children and adults on the common space.
“If you have shared commons,” said Brenner, “it ought to start with universal design.”