Playing Through Pain

Wolfpack, Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets To Meet In Military Division Championship Game

Wheelchair basketball means so much to Donald Burns.

So much — that about three months after having his left leg amputated, he decided he was going to play for the  Wolfpack Vets in this weekend’s National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Military Division National Championships at Turnstone Center for Adults & Children With Disabilities in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Despite being in pain and his leg still healing, the 44-year-old Marine Corps veteran went ahead and made his military team debut.

Wolfpack Vets player and Marine Corps veteran Donald Burns, in red, is playing in this weekend’s National Wheelchair Basketball Association Military Division Tournament. (Photo by John Groth).


“I didn’t wait for the release,” says Burns on Saturday morning.

Burns and the Wolfpack went 2-0 during Saturday’s second day and will end up playing in Sunday’s championship game. The Wolfpack Vets defeated the Florida Renegades, 46-43, in overtime in one semifinal, while the Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets defeated ParaSport Spokane, 58-49, in the other semifinal.

After letting an eight-point fourth-quarter lead slip away, the Wolfpack closed out and knocked off the Florida Renegades, who had been undefeated and were trying to repeat after winning the inaugural Military Division title last year at Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Ala.

Burns was determined to play this weekend. That’s despite having surgery Jan. 16 and having his left leg amputated.

He’d play a quarter and then take a quarter off to help it heal. But it was still swelling and tender to touch, and he admitted he was in a lot of pain.

“I’m giving it a break, trying not to stress out,” Burns says. “But you can’t help but play hard on the court.”

Burns, who served as an operations chief from 1998 to 2019, has played wheelchair basketball since 2019. He says his foot was injured during a training accident, and he had a Lisfranc injury, or an injury to the foot where metatarsal bones are displaced from the tarsus. He says neither the Marine Corps or Navy approved him for surgery, so a lot of bone decay occurred. He also tried a mid-foot fusion, but eventually the foot fell apart and doctors said it wasn’t salvageable.

So finally, after missing last year’s NWBA Adult Division and Military Division Championships, he decided to go ahead and play in the Military Division tourney this year. No matter the pain. He wanted that camaraderie again — and he liked his Wolfpack team.

“You know, in the military, there’s a lot of camaraderie,” Burns says. “And you have a team. So, you know who you can rely on for what. And that still applies on the court. You know what you can get out of one person. And you know what you can get out of the next person. So, you play to their strengths.”

Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets player Brent Garlic, in blue, drives downcourt on a breakaway in his team’s National Wheelchair Basketball Association Military Division game against ParaSport Spokane. (Photo by John Groth).


Army veteran and Team Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) member Jonathan Clark totally gets the camaraderie, too. The 43-year-old Clark served in the Army from 1999 to 2011 and repaired medical equipment. He’s battled what he calls a “crooked spine” for years, including where he was leaning at a 45-degree angle to the left for two-and-a-half years.

Unlike Burns, he randomly found out about the Military Division when registering to play wheelchair basketball for the Tacoma Titans, a NWBA Adult Division III team based out of Washington, earlier this year. He happened to check the box that said “military free agents” online.

Then, two weeks ago when playing in the NWBA Adult Division Championships in Glen Allen, Va., he realized that he had registered for the Military Division Tournament. He made some contacts and calls, then showed up this weekend. On the first day of the tournament, he learned he was on Team PVA. And he says it’s different from the Adult Division championships.

“The fact that there’s there’s not a whole lot of pressure because you’re thrown together with random people, so there’s only so much you can improve with,” Clark says.

Clark also won Saturday’s Military Division 3-point shootout contest. Afterward, he says it’s been a good experience.

“Sports are beautiful because it’s like life, you know?” says Clark, whose team later defeated the LWSRA Hawks, 45-33. “You just you take it where it’s at, improve what you can and control the controllables. And, you know, given the circumstances, given the tools we have, I think I think we’re doing well.”

National Wheelchair Basketball Association
Women’s Division Wheelchair Basketball National Championship

No. 1 WASA Marquette Eagles, No. 4 LWSRA Lady Hawks

No. 2 Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets 56, No. 3 Arizona Storm 48


No. 9 Angel City Sports 45, No. 7 Mary Free Bed 16

No. 8 Memorial Rehabilitation Sharks 43, No. 10 Cincinnati Lady Dragons 37

No. 10 Cincinnati Lady Dragons 40, No. 14 Adaptive Sports Ohio 23

No. 9 Angel City Sports 37, No. 4 Lakeshore Lightning 32

No. 6 Dallas Lady Mavericks 68, No. 9 Memorial Rehabilitation Sharks 25

No. 7 Mary Free Bed 34, No. 13 ParaSport Spokane 17

No. 10 Cincinnati Lady Dragons 43, No. 12 Ability360 Mercury 14

No. 7 Mary Free Bed 33, No. 11 PNW Reign 26

Military Division Wheelchair Basketball National Championship

No. 2B ParaSport Spokane 64, No. 3A Team PVA 57

No. 2A Wolfpack Vets 61, No. 3B LWSRA Hawks 19


No. 1A Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets 58, No. 2B ParaSport Spokane 49

No. 2A Wolfpack Vets 46, No. 1B Florida Renegades 43 (Overtime)


No. 3A Team PVA 45, No. 3B LWSRA Hawks 33

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