May 25, 2011
By Jacqueline M. Hames
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — The Army beat out the Marines, 44-19, and took home the gold, after fierce competition at the championship wheelchair basketball game, May 20, at the 2011 Warrior Games.
Enthusiastic fans from both sides packed the bleachers at Sports Center I, Olympic Training Center, here. They held up signs, honked horns and cheered for their favorite team.
After the intense game, head coach for the Army, Doug Garner, said he was pleased with the way his team played.
“We got off to a really good start and that helped,” Garner said, “We’ve been kind of slow coming out of our last few games, so we really wanted to come out at a level that we could take sure shots and play good defense, and we did that.”
Garner has been coaching wheelchair basketball since 1992. His son was born with a disability, he explained, so he started a junior program in Arkansas.
“Now I’m a commissioner for the junior division for the U.S. for the (National Wheelchair Basketball Association), so I work with junior programs around the country,” he said.
He also coaches the collegiate team at the University of Texas, Arlington, Texas. The Army called to ask him to coach their team.
The Army’s team benefited from the coach’s expertise in the championship game, said team captain Juan Soto, who is at the games for the first time.
“We kept our cool and executed basically everything that coach taught us last week,” Soto said.
Soto served in the Army from 1998 to 2002 and was injured in 2003 during a car accident. He has been playing wheelchair basketball for six years, he said, and believes he brings leadership to the court.
“I probably have the most experience,” Soto said. “I can decide where the ball goes and who should get it. I know the strengths and weaknesses of my players.”
He credits some of the leadership capabilities to his time in the Army.
Coach Garner was humbled to participate in the games because he was able to see the players as servicemembers as well as athletes.
“These guys brought a great attitude in because they remember last year,” Garner said. “They came to the pre-camp, all the camps, wanting to learn, and they were really focused.”
“I had a blast,” Soto said of the games. “It’s something I didn’t expect for it to be as huge as it is. We have a lot of support from our fellow servicemembers, so I’m hoping to do it next year.”
While the Army and Marines battled for the gold and silver, the Navy and Air Force fought for the remaining prize — the bronze. But Navy proved the winner there, in a close 13-12 game against the Air Force’s team.
The 2011 Warrior Games, a joint effort between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Department of Defense, is sponsored by Deloitte.