Rontes Williams remembers the first time he saw his wheelchair.
“Like, what am I going to do with this,” Williams said. “How are we going to play?”
Being confused felt a little welcoming after what he was going through.
“It’s kind of the only thing I liked after my accident,” Williams said.
When he was 13, Williams suffered an injury to his T10 and T11 vertebrae in his spine from an accidental gunshot. He said he was riding a four-wheeler when a friend was playing with a gun in his grandmother’s backyard. Williams said he wasn’t fond of that, so he nudged his friend and the gun went off.
“When I knew I was hit, it just felt like everything was in slow motion,” Williams said. “Like, I couldn’t feel nothing. I thought I was going to die. And then I looked up at the sky and it was gray. And I said I know I’m not going to die today.”
So he was rushed to the hospital, where he remembers going through the hospital doors and hearing his mother. The doctors then broke the news about his spine.
“At the beginning, they thought it was a complete break,” Williams said. “So the doctor told me I wasn’t going to be able to walk again. And then a week later, I was able to move my big toe. He still said I wouldn’t ever be able to walk again. And then I was walking like two years later.”
The 18-year-old has continued to improve and shatter doubts. But he still can’t run. When he found that out years ago, he found the Mississippi Wheelcats of the Mississippi Youth Wheelchair League for an escape.
“It still kind of is,” Williams said.
“Through adaptive sporting, children can learn independence,” Wheelcats coach Mark Roth said. “They can feel so much better about themselves. Many people think you have to be in a wheelchair all the time. A majority of our team members are permanent wheelchair users, but you just have to have a
lower limb disability.”
So Williams only uses a wheelchair when he’s on the court. There was a learning curve for getting his basketball wheels turning.
“The whole concept of it really,” Williams said. “I really struggled with pushing and having to push a lot.”
The Pearl High School senior said it took him a year or two to pick up the sport. But once he got it, he started rolling towards a college scholarship.
“He’s very smart,” Mississippi Wheelcats coach Lawerance Williams said. “He understands the game. He’s one of those guys that you can break down a concept to him and he’ll understand what you’re talking about.”
“It’s always been his goal and he just never gave up,” Roth said.
“I didn’t really think I was going to college,” Williams said.
Now, he’s signed to play at Southwest Minnesota State University. It’s one of 11 universities that offer scholarships to men and women for the sport. He’s the first player from the Mississippi Youth Wheelchair League to earn a college scholarship for wheelchair basketball.
After all he’s been through, Williams hopes he can be an inspiration to others.
“I hope I encourage a lot of people to keep striving,” Williams said. “Having a disability won’t stop you, no way. Just keep striving and find your sport, stick with it.”
Even if you have to deny death and look through a gray sky to find it.