Cabrini hosts second annual wheelchair basketball game

By Samantha Taddei
May 1, 2023

Cavs and Comets kick off the game. Photo courtesy of Cabrini University.
Cavs and Comets kick off the game. Photo courtesy of Cabrini University.

Much of Cabrini’s community is built on athletics and showcases a wide variety of athletes. But on April 17, a different kind of passion, tenacity and dedication bloomed when Cabrini hosted its second annual wheelchair basketball game.

In memory of Katie

Cabrini’s women’s basketball team took on Katie’s Komets, a Philadelphia-based wheelchair basketball program. The coed organization is for youth participants with lower limb impairments and offers the opportunity to engage in sports at a competitive level.

Katie’s Komets was founded in 1996 by Joe and Roseann Kirlin, in honor of their daughter Katie Kirlin. Katie Kirlin was a national champion wheelchair athlete who, at 12, died from astrocytoma, a rare cancerous tumor. The cancer left her paralyzed from the chest down and she spent the last two years of her life in a wheelchair.

The Kirlins have supported the program for the past 25 years in honor of their daughter. The organization is now operated by the Philadelphia Department of Parks and Recreation.

By offering financial support to physically challenged athletes and their families, the Kirlins encourage wheelchair sports participation among kids in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.

Cavs meet the Komets

The event was organized by Cabrini sophomore Samantha Sturkey, a psychology major with a minor in neuroscience. Sturkey joined Katie’s Komets in October 2009.

Sam Sturkey rebounds the ball. Photo courtesy of Cabrini University.

Sturkey was born with spina bifida, a birth defect where the spinal cord does not develop properly in the womb. Sturkey explained how this affects the nerves in her legs and prohibits her ability to walk, making her a full-time wheelchair user.

When Sturkey became the manager of the women’s basketball team in 2022, she wanted to unite Katie’s Komets with Cabrini.

“I think it’s an eye-opener to a lot of our athletes who are able-bodied. They get to see a different perspective of how sports can be played,” Sturkey said.  “It also shows the athletes in our community that just because you have a disability, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything.”

The Cabrini women had to adjust quickly to playing in wheelchairs. The more experienced Komets got off to a quick start. The Cavaliers struggled to find a rhythm as they learned to maneuver around the court.

Giana Rullo, sophomore forward, was one of the many players to take on this challenge.

“It was very hard to figure the wheelchair out. The mechanics were difficult to understand, but after a couple of tries it became easier,” Rullo said. 

Giana Rullo passes the ball to a teammate. Photo courtesy of Cabrini University.

“It was an eye-opening experience,” she added. “I learned that other people have to work a lot harder to do everyday tasks we take for granted. They still don’t let it stop them and get in the way of their success.”

As expected, the hard-fought game ended in favor of the Komets. The Cavs were dominated on their home court with a final score of 39-13. Nonetheless, both teams came off the court in high spirits.

Sturkey explained how she hopes this is just the start in giving the wheelchair basketball community the recognition it deserves.

“I hope these games help raise awareness about disabilities and adaptive athletes who have disabilities,” Sturkey said. “Getting the two teams involved, and even all the other athletes that came out to support, means so much. I put so much effort into putting it together, and seeing it thrive the way that it does only after two years, is awesome.”

“This event means the world to me. I absolutely love it and I hope to continue it for years to come.  I hope that once I graduate, I can come back every now and then and help host these events,” Sturkey said.

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Samantha Taddei

Samantha Taddei is a senior here at Cabrini University. She is a 21 year old Communications major with a minor in Leadership studies. Sam is also a student athlete and plays on the Cabrini softball team. In her spare time, she likes to read, write, and watch Philly sports. Her love for writing is what inspired her to join the Loquitur. She is also a part of the Cabrini Communications department's, House 67, where she will be talking all about Cabrini athletics every Thursday night on air. She hopes to one day become a journalist and share her work with everyone on a national scale.

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