One of the best parts of going to the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament presented by ABC Medical is having the opportunity to meet hundreds of different people from all over the country. Beach bums from California can interact with farmers from the Midwest, Southern debutants can converse with gator hunters from the Bayou and city slickers can speak with ice fishers from Minnesota. Maybe that is a little stereotypical, but the point is that everyone there has a unique story to tell. The NWBT and the NWBA are a melting pot of cultures.
For example, how many people have ever met someone with 10 siblings? A household that big is extraordinary and so is the topic of the fourth “Road to the NWBT” feature, Jack Binsfeld.
Jack is a 12-year-old basketball player who plays for the Rolling Rowdies in his home state of Minnesota. His path to where he is now was quite the journey. Jack was born with Spina Bifida in China in 2006 and when he was six-years-old, he and his friend, Mia, from the orphanage were adopted by Neal and Jeanne Binsfeld.
“Jack was just in shock,” said Neal about his first day as Jack’s dad. “He grieved when we took him back to the hotel and all through the flight back to the United States, but that’s just Jack. He’s just intense.”
It is easy to empathize with Jack in that moment. Imagine being adopted into a new family and then immediately having to move to a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. That’s a lot for a six-year-old to process. But his parents aren’t the type of people to give up. “Having 11 kids is terrific,” Jack’s mom Jeanne said. “But like any parent would say, raising children comes with challenges.”
Neal, Jack’s father who played football and baseball growing up, remembers a quote from one of his old coaches, which formed one of the pillars of his and Jeanne’s parenting style: “Do ordinary things, extraordinarily well.” And that is not something they just push on their kids. They try to live by that mantra in every aspect of life.
So when they saw Jack devastated throughout the first few weeks of him joining the family, rather than be depressed about it, they started working on ways to make him more comfortable in his new home. Luckily for them, two of their oldest daughters, Sarah and Samantha Binsfeld, helped them discover a new path towards helping Jack assimilate to his environment. Sarah played wheelchair basketball for the U.S. National Team in the 2012 Paralympic Games in London and helped the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater become the top team in the nation her senior year. Samantha also helped UWW become the top intercollegiate women’s team her senior year as well. “They were the inspiration,” Jeanne explained when asked how they decided to introduce Jack to wheelchair basketball.
A few months after coming to the United States, Jack’s parents decided to see how he would do in wheelchair basketball. “I observed the coaches watch him as a six-year-old and how he saw the angles of the game,” Jack’s mom said with pride. “They were amazed by his natural skill.” It was not long before Jack started to gain confidence in the new realm of sports.
“My parents brought me to the Courage Center (in Minneapolis, MN) and the first time I shot the ball,” Jack recalled, “It was a great feeling.” Most players give their all to the game, but for Jack, this was a two-sided relationship.
At first, Jack was a quiet kid who grieved for his situation of having to leave his country. But after a year of playing, his outlook started to change. “Basketball really pulled him out of his shell,” Neal described. “He jokes more now and doesn’t beat himself up over small mistakes.” That confidence he had on the court ended up spilling over to his life off the court. Jack says he is close with all of his teammates and basketball even helped him learn English. If you speak with him, you would never guess that English is not his native tongue.
Jack is fortunate to be in good hands with quality coaching from Rolling Rowdies Coach AJ Dordel and his two sisters, Samantha and Sarah. His sisters are always there to support him and as he describes, “They’re always telling me what I could do better and how I can be a better player.”
And as one of the top players on the Minnesota Rolling Rowdies, he has helped lead the Rowdies to be the top ranked Junior Prep Division team in the month of January. His parents describe him as a hungry shooter when he first started playing, but now Jack makes sure to get all his teammates involved in the game. Jack will make sure to pass to the new kid and if the game is not too close, he will continuously pass to a struggling player until they make their shot. Jack knows what it is like to be the new kid on the block and makes it a point to help any teammate that he sees is struggling.
And do not make the mistake of thinking that Jack is a pushover. Inside this 12-year-old kids beats the heart of a fierce competitor. “I’m excited to go out there and win,” Jack says when asked what he is looking forward to most for the NWBT. Sure, he adds that he wants to have fun and see friends, but when you come from a family that includes college champions and a Paralympian, it is no surprise that Jack is in it to win it.
Like his parents, he is trying to do an ordinary thing, extraordinarily well.