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Wheelchair cage enthusiast eyes RR for pro team

By GARY HERRON Observer staff writer

Oct 22, 2016

Sunday is Funday wheelchair basketball players playing at Haynes Park
Kipp Watson joins volunteer players for a game of wheelchair basketball on the Haynes Park court.
Kipp Watson makes a pass during a demonstration of wheelchair basketball at Sunday is Funday in August at Haynes Park.
Kipp Watson makes a pass during a demonstration of wheelchair basketball at Sunday is Funday in August at Haynes Park.

Although Rio Rancho has been the short-lived home for professional and semi-pro basketball, football, soccer and hockey teams, another franchise could be in the works.

Kipp Watson, who plays for the Albuquerque Kings wheelchair basketball team, is working hard to secure a metro area franchise in the new Professional Wheelchair Basketball League (WPBL).

Disabled since incurring polio at the age of 10 months, Watson has been a proponent — and avid player — of wheelchair basketball since he attended a camp for youngsters with disabilities more than 50 years ago. He and his wife of 38 years, Emily, have lived in Rio Rancho since 2011.

With a 21-year career as an attorney behind him, he’s taking care of the legal requirements to get what will be called the Rio Rancho Road Runners up and running — er, wheeling — along.

According to its website (pwblenterprises.com), the PWBL was created to have wheelchair basketball marketed and managed as a professional business model similar to the NBA. PWBL Enterprises created a detailed plan for a professional league in the U.S. for wheelchair basketball; the plan outlines the benefits of such a league, financial breakdowns and league positions. The league will be a for-profit league, with each individual team being owned by individual investors or groups, similar to the NBA.

To date, there has been interest shown by New York City, Chicago, Kansas City, Omaha and here in Rio Rancho, thanks to Watson, designated as a local business agent by the PWBL.

Games would be played using a pro league scheduling format, starting, hopefully, with an eight-team league in the first year, with each team having 14 home games and 14 road games in the debut season -- with two games per week for 14 weeks, plus playoffs.

As for the Road Runners’ home court, Watson has been in talks with The MAC and Santa Ana Star Center. Watson is trying to persuade the management at The MAC (formerly Blades Multiplex Arenas) of the usefulness of “sport chairs” on site; “Everybody would benefit from using sports chairs,” Watson said.

Undeterred by the exodus of previous franchises in the City of Vision — the New Mexico Scorpions, the New Mexico Storm, the New Mexico Wildcats, the New Mexico Stars, the New Mexico Thunderbirds — Watson thinks he has the key to the Road Runners’ possible success and longevity.

“The Road Runners would be a vehicle to help promote Rio Rancho, a means by which local community organizations and businesses can network,” he said. “For example, I can see the Road Runners hosting events at the Star Center, with people watching an exciting wheelchair basketball game that can also be participating in an event, much like Sunday is Funday — with tables all around the basketball court.”

Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull is on board.

“We’ve talked in depth,” Hull said of Watson. “He’s currently structuring the idea.

“Personally, I’m very supportive. It brings focus on a sport we don’t have here — I think it’s a great idea. It’s a a tremendous event to have in the city.”

“We can have thousands of people at these events; you can meet your neighbors, learn about businesses,” Watson said. “If a sports team is going to succeed in Rio Rancho, it has to have the networking needs of Rio Rancho hard-wired into its business plan.”

Looking into the future, Watson continued, “Let’s say three to five years from now, I see the Rio Rancho Road Runners bringing wheelchair basketball to everybody, and The MAC is the first sports facility in the country to tell their customers, ‘We have sports chairs;’ we call them exercise equipment. It’s a wonderful way of staying fit.”

It’s not an easy game to master, he said.

“Your body needs to be maximally tuned for the body you have been blessed with — it’s not just elbows and shoulders.”

Although professional basketball players are considered old, even elderly, before they reach 40, Watson, 66, has no plans to retire from the game he loves. Heck, he even had the opportunity, when playing for teams back in New York and New Jersey, to face a team of New York Knicks in wheelchairs — at Madison Square Garden.

“We whipped their ass, to put it bluntly,” he recalled, wearing a T-shirt proclaiming, “Never underestimate an old man with a wheelchair.”

“I’m a very competitive player,” Watson said. “I have good eating habits; I get the sleep I need, go to a gym twice a week and go to practice.

“I’m gonna do the best I can over the next 20-30 years.”

You can follow the Kings on Facebook. The Rio Rancho Road Runners don’t have a social media presence yet. To get in touch with Watson, send him an email at kw.chairball@gmail.com.

 

Wheelchair cage enthusiast eyes RR for pro team