Champion amputee athlete finding success in new sport

Sixteen-year-old amputee and cancer survivor Skylar Scarnecchia has never let her disability slow her down. She plays basketball for Champion High School, golfs and previously ran track. Recently, Scarnecchia fell in love with a new sport: wheelchair basketball. Watch the video above to hear from Scarnecchia and see her in action.

“It was very refreshing,” Scarnecchia said. “It was just a whole new outlook on basketball. Personally, I think it’s a lot harder on than stand-up basketball, so it makes me push myself even more.”

This past January, Sports Team 27 produced a feature piece on Scarnecchia, who posted the story to her social media. Three-time Paralympian Darlene Hunter saw the story and reached out to Scarnecchia to see if she was interested in playing wheelchair basketball.

“At first, my pride was getting in the way of me trying out this sport and everything,” she said. “I was like, ‘I can stand up. I can run. I can walk. Why do I need to sit down and limit myself to do it?’ So, me and my mom had to have a heart-to-heart talk and she was like, ‘Your pride is getting in the way of an amazing opportunity.’”

Hunter connected Scarnecchia with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ wheelchair basketball team. After Scarnecchia’s first practice with the team, she was hooked.

“I went out the next Sunday and I tried out a wheelchair and we started playing and I fell in love with the sport all over again,” she said.

While Scarnecchia enjoys stand-up basketball at Champion, she feels a sense of belonging playing wheelchair basketball.

“Meeting all these people that kind of understand what I went through and everything, it’s been very comforting in knowing that there are people who have the same struggles as me and can relate to me in so many different ways,” Scarnecchia said. “All my stand-up team, everyone is very understanding of it and tried their best to understand, but in this community, it’s just a whole different feeling.”

The transition to wheelchair basketball wasn’t easy, but Scarnecchia embraces the challenge.

“Dribbling is so hard while in the chair and then just learning how to shoot sitting down,” she added. “It takes so much upper body strength in this sport and that’s what I’ve had to get used to the most.”

Since becoming a member of the Cavaliers’ team, Scarnecchia has joined two other teams: the Dallas Lady Mavericks and a junior team based out of Pittsburgh.

This upcoming weekend, Scarnecchia will be competing with the Lady Mavericks at the 2022 National Wheelchair Basketball Association Women’s National Championships at the University of Akron.

“I’m so excited for so many different things this weekend,” she said. “Meeting new people, first of all, playing on a new team, meeting all the women, the opportunities and just getting my game face on and competing because that’s what I like to do most.”

While playing on a national stage, Scarnecchia is hoping to shine a light on wheelchair basketball and empower others to get involved.

“Personally, as an amputee and a girl with a disability, I didn’t even know this existed and I’m so happy I could be opening up this realm to so many other people and be like, ‘Oh, wheelchair basketball is so cool. You need to go check this out right now.’ I wish I knew about it sooner because I would have gotten into it way quicker… I think it’s just amazing and I’m so happy I could be helping to show what the sport is,” she said.