Kutz Elementary Basketball Game Fundraiser Shows “We All Wheel”

a student in a wheelchair with his arms raised

Kutz Elementary School teachers and students recently participated in a basketball game/charity fundraiser at CB West’s gym – only this was no ordinary basketball game. All the players were in wheelchairs as part of an innovative program known as “We All Wheel.”

It was a night of fun, with all proceeds going to the Pray for Dominic Hero Fund, through the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which funds pediatric cancer research. But it meant much more to all those involved.

“The event gave the students a different perspective on things,’’ says Christina Adelberger, principal of Kutz Elementary.

It’s a perspective that Kutz student Ciarlo Liples knows well, and that’s why this event had special meaning for the Central Bucks School District community.

Ciarlo was born with spina bifida and is paralyzed from the hips down. For years, his main way of connecting with the able-bodied world came by accompanying his mother, father and big brother, Dominic, to various sporting events and living vicariously, and proudly, through Dominic’s exploits.

But then the unthinkable happened. Early in 2016, Dominic, then seven, was stricken with brain cancer. Nine months later, Ciarlo’s big brother died, leaving a gaping abyss that has swallowed up the spirits of many families in the past.

Not this time.

Shortly before Dominic passed, Ciarlo had been fitted with his first wheelchair.

“Until then, he had been only been able to watch his brother,’’ his mother, Kira Liples, says. “Ciarlo got in the chair, and immediately said, ‘Now I can play wheelchair basketball.’ And he hasn’t looked back since.’’

Now a sixth grader at Kutz, Ciarlo’s basketball journey has been Kira’s basketball journey. More than that, wheelchair basketball has been the unexpected vehicle in which her son, now 12, has bonded with classmates, teachers and in the biggest picture, the community.

“We didn't think that sports were going to be part of his journey,’’ says Kira. “But we were very, very wrong.’’

Shortly after Dominic passed away, Kira and Kenny Liples took Ciarlo to a wheelchair basketball camp in Philadelphia to try it out. He loved it. From there, he joined Katie’s Komets, a wheelchair team formed by parents of a child who had lost her ability to play without a wheelchair due to cancer.

Ciarlo loved it. He loved his teammates, the competition and the camaraderie. Those teammates, though, lived all over the Delaware Valley. Back at home, without a son involved in sports locally, the Liples and Ciarlo felt increasingly isolated from the community.

students seated in wheelchairs smileSo, Kira did something about it. She had a birthday party for Ciarlo and 10 of his closest schoolmates at the gym his team practiced in. Ciarlo and his able-bodied pals manned the wheelchairs and had a game.

“It was the most fun time he ever had,’’ says Kira. “I told some friends in my book group about it. That was my dream. I wanted to make a program where Ciarlo could play with his able-bodied friends just all the time.’’

Two of Kira’s book-group friends put together a proposal seeking a grant to fund a wheelchair basketball program at the Doylestown branch of YMCA of Bucks County. “We All Wheel’’ was born. The program is now a once-a-week, staff-led, recreational youth wheelchair basketball program that includes drills, practice and games. It is open to both children with lower body extremity disabilities and their able-bodied  peers. 

“I love that I get to actually play what I love with my able-bodied friends,’’ says Ciarlo.

And it led to the recent fundraising event at Kutz, which raised $3,431.41 to fund research into pediatric high-grade glioma through the Pray for Dominic Hero Fund and St. Baldrick’s. One hundred percent of all money raised for the fund goes to research.

“This event helped the students understand what he's up against every day,” Adelberger says. “If you see Ciarlo wheeling around the school, he makes it just look so effortless and easy. But when you're the one in the chair, you're like, ‘Wow, this takes a lot of physical strength and coordination.’’’

See a slideshow of pictures from the We All Wheel event at CB West!  

The success has triggered discussions to mimic this program at schools throughout CBSD.

“It’s not fun when you're always the different one,’’ says Kira. “This has changed that. Without his team and friends, he would be lost. They are the siblings that stepped up in the loss of his sibling.’’