HOBART | It's tempting to patronize Zoey Voris, to pat her on the back and tell her that she's a "winner" without even seeing her put up a shot.
You may also expect Zoey to be receptive to such unconditional accolades.
But Zoey doesn't roll that way.
"I'm pretty competitive," said the Hobart 14-year-old, who has emerged as a star for the Rolling Falcons wheelchair basketball team. "I like to have to earn respect as a player."
At the Midwest Conference Wheelchair Championships held Feb. 22-24 at Harlem High School in Rockford, Zoey helped the Rolling Falcons take the junior varsity title while earning MVP honors at the tournament.
Zoey joined the Falcons, who are based in the New Lenox/Frankfort area, midway through the current season.
"She used to play for the (Hammond) Rollin' Hoosiers, but they are more of a recreational program right now," said Zoey's mother, Christine Voris. "She wanted a little more than that, but there really isn't much around here for highly competitive wheelchair players.
"So we're willing to drive an hour both ways to practice and play with the Falcons."
Zoey has to rely on a pair of ankle-foot orthosis braces for general mobility, though walking upright is often taxing and treacherous.
"I don't like using a wheelchair at school or in public," said Zoey, a Hobart Middle School student.
But her mother says she prefers staying in a chair during wheelchair tournaments, even when her team isn't playing.
"Usually, the people who are not in wheelchairs (at tournaments) are the minority," Christine said.
Zoey has been playing organized wheelchair basketball for three years. She has developed a reliable outside shot and plays tenacious defense.
"She sits up tall in her chair, and she really goes at it while contesting a shot or pass," said National Wheelchair Basketball Association all-star David Radbel, who plays for the Chicago Bulls wheelchair team and has helped Zoey with her game.
The Falcons are a coed team. They have qualified to play in Wheelchair Basketball Nationals, April 18-23 in Louisville, Ken.
"After that, the season is over," Zoey said. "I plan on practicing during the summer. This is my only sport."
She originally got introduced to wheelchair basketball at the Hammond YMCA.
"One of the volunteer coaches (Fred Rich) played a huge part in getting her started," Christine said. "Even after she left (the YMCA program), he kept in touch and supported her."
Like standard basketball, wheelchair basketball places a premium on positioning. Games usually employ a lot of half-court and full-court traps -- literal, as two well-positioned defenders or offenders can immobilize an opponent; and, of course, pick-and-rolls. Sometimes the action is akin to a violent automobile pile-up.
"It can be very physical out there," Zoey said, "and that's how I play ... physical."