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Mary Free Bed Junior Pacers win national NWBA championship

The Mary Free Bed Junior Pacers captured the National Wheelchair Basketball Association’s Junior Division Varsity Championship during the March 30-April 2 tournament at the Kentucky Exposition Center in Louisville, Ky. The Junior Pacers – ranked the No. 4 seed – defeated the Georgia-based BlazeSports Junior Hawks, 54-36, to clinch the title.

The Junior Pacers, a team of West Michigan athletes with physical disabilities who range in age from 15 to 18, are sponsored by the Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital Wheelchair & Adaptive Sports Program.

“It was a pleasure to see this team confirm what we had thought throughout the season – that this was a National Champion team,” said Mike Burkhart, WAS team coordinator. “Due to the experience and direction of the coaching staff, this group of athletes was able to come together and perform at the highest level.”

The team, which finished the regular season with a 22-6 record, jumped out to an early lead and led by at least 10 points the entire game. Senior Tanner Gentry, a senior from Muskegon, set the stage scoring 18 of his 25 points in the first half. In the second half, senior Matthew Talbot of Alto, led the Pacers with 12 of his 15 points. Gabe DenBraber, a junior from Grand Rapids, scored 12 points.

Gentry was named Most Valuable Player of the national championship game as well as tournament first team. DenBraber was named most sportsmanlike for the tournament, and teammate Natalie Wright, a senior from Sparta, earned first team academic and first team women honors.

The team also includes CJ Blackwell, a sophomore from Kentwood; Zeke Postma, a sophomore from Holland; and Dallas Zwyghuizen, a senior from Grand Rapids. They are coached by Lee Montgomery and Mark Ghafari.

The 2017 NWBA tournament, presented by ABC Medical, was the largest ever with 95 teams competing in two divisions for national championships.

Mary Free Bed’s WAS program is one of the largest in the United States. In 2016, about 650 adults and children participated on a team or participated in a class or clinic. This year, WAS has 15 teams and is offering six classes and 10 clinics. WAS also hosts five annual events, including the 5/3 Riverbank Run 25k wheelchair and handcycle races.

Mary Free Bed is a not-for-profit, nationally accredited, rehabilitation hospital. For more than 125 years, Mary Free Bed has restored hope and freedom through rehabilitation for children and adults who have experienced brain injuries, strokes, spinal cord injuries, multiple traumas, amputations, cancer and other diagnoses. The combination of comprehensive services and an exclusive focus on rehabilitation enables specialty physicians and staff to help patients achieve outstanding clinical results. For additional information, visit maryfreebed.com.

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