ALAMEDA -- Children at Franklin Elementary School got a special lesson in the sport of basketball and what it means to get on the court with players with physical or other disabilities.
Several students this past Friday even went one on one with guest Trooper Johnson, a Paralympian and champion wheelchair athlete.
The event was staged as part of the school's third annual Abilities Awareness Week. In the first two years, outdoor activities were cancelled because of poor weather. But this year, despite the cold, the school community got to enjoy an animated display of talent and understanding.
"I'm here to show you that someone may be in a wheelchair but they are not really limited," said Johnson, who lost the use of his legs after a car accident involving alcohol at age 17. "There are people who are born with disabilities and others get them later in life, sometimes because they make bad choices. We, the adults in your life, all want you to make better decisions than we did."
The students screamed and laughed as fifth-grader John Burton played against Johnson. Later, fourth-grader Ethan Harland took on the Paralympian.
"Let's go, Ethan!" they yelled.
"This is amazing," said Al Esguerra, a fourth-grader. "He does it with one hand and in a wheelchair. I think it's hard to play against someone in a wheelchair, especially someone who has played basketball as his job."
Johnson was impressed with how well the Franklin students played. And he praised Grace Wise, a fifth-grader who made five three-point shots.
"I've never seen a student step back and make those baskets like she did," he said.
When it comes to drugs and alcohol, the motivational speaker urged students to learn the word "no." "People will ask you to try this and try that. They will keep asking you. You can say 'no,' but if you yell 'no,' they will not ask you over and over," he said.
The students also listened as Johnson explained what it means for parts of the body to be paralyzed.
"It means the nerves send messages to the brain, but then those messages don't get to my legs," he said. "It means I can't walk. But a wheelchair doesn't make me any different as a person."
Johnson was invited to the school thanks to the efforts of parent Shalom Bruhn, who has muscular dystrophy.
"I work with Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program, which supports community members with disabilities, and the group put me in touch with him," Bruhn said.
"The kids have just loved Johnson," said Franklin Principal Jo Fetterly. "They have crowded around him, and they don't want him to leave. It's really been fun, and he's helped us raise awareness of those with different abilities."