Berkeley's Roll 'n Shoot Organizer Berton Mahardja Talks to

By Douglas Fehlen

Roll You recently coordinated the fourth annual Roll 'n Shoot Tournament. Can you share some information about this event?

Berton Mahardja: The Roll 'n Shoot is a benefit three-on-three wheelchair basketball tournament that is open to able-bodied Cal students and the larger Berkeley community. Students have coordinated the event for the past four years, and it has been a great partnership between the Cal community and the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP). Teams of four to 10 members are asked to raise at least $250 to enter the daylong tournament. This year's 12 participating teams raised over $60,000 for BORP's youth program.

E-P: Can you explain the purpose of the BORP youth program that Roll 'n Shoot benefits?

BM: BORP is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the health, independence and social integration of people with physical disabilities through sports, fitness and recreation programs. The group is the leading provider of accessible sports for children and adults with physical disabilities in the San Francisco Bay Area and it does a lot of great things for the community. The Roll 'n Shoot raises funds specifically for BORP's youth program, which has had a very significant impact on all of its participants. For example, over the past ten years, 98% of BORP's youth alumni have graduated from high school and over 80% have gone on to college. These statistics are in sharp contrast with national data on people with disabilities, and they are particularly impressive given the fact that the majority of the participants come from low-income households.

E-P: You are also the facilitator of the wheelchair basketball DeCal class. Can you explain what that is to our readers?

BM: The DeCal program at UC Berkeley is a student-run democratic education program that allows students to create and facilitate courses on our own campus. These are courses that one would not regularly find on a college campus, such as 'Harry Potter and the Great Wizarding War,' 'The Art of Human Beatboxing,' 'Female Sexuality,' 'Batman as American Mythology' and, of course, 'Wheelchair Basketball.'

Our class introduces the sport of wheelchair basketball to Cal students of all abilities. Most of our students, however, are able-bodied, and the course is designed to suit students who most likely do not have any experience in adaptive sports. The course has three main learning objectives, which include establishing a thorough understanding of wheelchair basketball, fostering greater awareness of contemporary issues surrounding disabilities and increasing involvement in the local community. The class aims to achieve these goals through weekly classes where students receive formal instruction, take part in drills and skill-based games, scrimmage against one another, participate in discussions and, most importantly, have a lot of fun. We also have a community participation assignment that asks students to participate in a local adaptive sporting event.

BORP lends our class 14 of its wheelchairs every week. Without the organization's support, the program at Cal would not exist; we try to reciprocate BORP's kindness as much as we can, which is how the Roll 'n Shoot tournament was born. BORP has always been very supportive of our class and we hope to maintain a healthy partnership between BORP and the Cal community.


E-P: What are some of the intangible benefits of the Roll 'n Shoot tournament in terms of disability awareness?

BM: The tournament really breaks down a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding the disability label. For most participants, this tournament provides their first exposure to adaptive sports, and simply getting into the wheelchairs and trying out this sport does a whole lot to widen their perspectives on disabilities. By the time the first game starts, they find themselves actually playing a sport in a wheelchair. The feeling of being so capable while strapped into something that is so closely associated with the idea of disability really questions what the 'disabled' label means. By the time participants start making baskets, it is clear that they are very much able to do things in a wheelchair - far from what the label of 'disability' might suggest.

Another aspect of the tournament that really helps facilitate understanding is the participants' interaction with the BORP youth team. Each one of the twelve teams is assigned a BORP youth member who becomes a coach for the duration of the tournament, giving them tips and strategies to help them excel in the game. Roll 'n Shoot participants actually get to interact with the people for whom they help raise funds, and that interaction is absolutely beneficial in raising awareness surrounding disability and in humanizing people who happen to have physical ailments.

In addition to interacting as coaches and coachees, the two groups also get to have some competitive fun in a full-court game that pits Roll 'n Shoot participants against BORP members. This game always drives home the point about questioning the label of disability because the able-bodied Roll 'n Shoot participants who are finally starting to get comfortable playing basketball in their chairs always get absolutely destroyed by this gang of disabled children. The game really helps to restructure the box that defines and confines the idea of disability.

E-P: Can you talk about your education background and how you came to be involved in wheelchair athletics?

BM: My story started in Jakarta, Indonesia, where I was born. Ten short years later, my family and I moved to San Jose, California, where I blossomed into a proper rebellious teenager. I was then fortunate enough to be introduced to adaptive sports in high school. One of my football coaches was a power wheelchair user, and I attended a power soccer tournament that he was competing in. Power soccer is an awesome team sport specifically designed for people who use power wheelchairs. It was amazing to see him in an environment where he could genuinely be his competitive self, and that memory really stuck with me. A year later, at Cal, I heard about a campus wheelchair basketball tournament and I knew I had to go check it out. I was a participant in the Roll 'n Shoot my first year at Cal, took the DeCal course shortly after and am still involved with the program two years later.

E-P: How would you describe the interest in wheelchair basketball at UC Berkeley?

BM: Those who hear about the sport or the program are instantly intrigued. After simply hearing the words 'wheelchair basketball,' people show immediate interest and want to find out more. What we are trying to do is make our presence more well-known on campus, especially in an effort to make the Roll 'n Shoot a bigger event that reaches out to more students. As of now, however, there is a lot of interest in the DeCal course. We actually had to turn many students away on the first day because we have a limited number of chairs. It doesn't feel very good to have to turn people away from an opportunity like this, but I am glad that people are so interested in seeing what the program is about.

E-P: What do you plan to do after you graduate from UC Berkeley? How do you feel your experiences with wheelchair athletics programs will inform your career?

BM: I am very passionate about current issues in education, especially surrounding policies that perpetuate inequality in the United States. I am planning on pursuing a career in education, but I am not quite yet sure what form that will take. I would love to get my credentials and teach after graduation, then possibly go back to school to pursue a graduate degree in education.

My experiences with the program at Cal are absolutely invaluable. The program has given me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people and to be in situations where I was given a lot of room to grow as a person. Also, one of my main takeaways from all of this is that learning can happen in many places outside of the classroom. One afternoon playing wheelchair basketball can teach you things that you might not be able to learn in a week inside of a classroom. In addition, athletics is a lot more than just playing a game. It is a great way to trick people, especially youth, into learning about the value of teamwork, communication, leadership, dedication and much more.

E-P: Finally, I'd like to offer you the opportunity to share anything you'd like about yourself and the work you do.

BM: I would just like to say that none of this could have taken place if it wasn't for the help and support of so many others around me. The power of the community can do some great things, and it would take me a ridiculously long time to list all of those who have made this possible. So I would just like to leave a nice little 'thank you' right here.

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