Para-athlete teaches dribbling and diversity to Italian children

VERANO BRIANZA, Italy (AP) – Four second-year classes in the Milanese suburb of Verano Brianza learned to play basketball this spring from a real pro. They also had a lesson on diversity.

Their coach for the month of May is Adolfo Damian Berdun, an Argentinian-Italian wheelchair basketball champion. Berdun, 39, lost his left leg in a traffic accident at the age of 13 in his hometown of Buenos Aires, and he has visited many schools over the years to discuss how he has lived with his disability.

But this time, when he entered suburban elementary school, Berdun wanted to simply be a “coach”.

It was his first time in the role. He declined the video intro suggestions and took to the court on day one with a blank slate, with no background.

“Every class that came in looked at me with their mouths open as if they wanted to ask a question,” Berdun said. “I said, ‘We can ask questions later, now we’re playing basketball.’ “

The head of the sports association that organized the five-week program recalled the first day. Berdun made a simple introduction, then asked, “’Do you want to run?’ They said yes, and he said, “Run”, ”said Elena Sandre. And they left, hungry for action after a college year mostly deprived of team sports.

Over the five weeks, the children learned to dribble and shoot; passage was limited due to COVID protocols. They lined up for drills and ran a slalom course on the gym floor. Berdun lowered two rings on either side of the basket, so kids who couldn’t throw at the 10-foot (three-meter) height of the standard hoop could have a shot.

Sandre got to know Berdun as a journalist covering wheelchair basketball in Italy, first in Rome, then in Sardinia and finally upon his arrival in the province of Monza in Lombardy, where he plays on UnipolSai Briantea84 Cantù. The team won the Italian championship this year and Berdun was named MVP of the championship. He continues to play for the Argentina national team, but will not compete in the Tokyo Paralympic Games because his team did not qualify.

Sandre said she patted Berdun not because of his disability, but because she observed the way he was leading the team he was playing in.

“If you see him playing, you see he’s a coach. He leads the team. He’s a leader, ” she said. He had no trouble managing a sometimes noisy group of 7 years old.

“I never imagined that in a wheelchair, with so many children, I could feel so good,” said Berdun.

Even though Berdun delayed discussing his disability until the last day, the lesson in diversity resonated. Sandre says she sees parents in social media posts talking about how their children are “privileged” to have the experience of learning from a para-athlete.

On his last day, the children gave Berdun the drawings they had made.

“But the best part is that we managed to break down the barrier between the coach with a wheelchair leg and the ideal of a coach, period,” said Berdun.

“How do I know that? Because after asking me a few questions, they asked me if they could keep doing basketball drills. It means they were more interested in playing than in knowing why I only have one leg.


“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in difficult times – stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at


Barry reported from Milan.

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