UW-Whitewater athletes disappointed over failed Chicago bid

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
— UW-Whitewater junior Matt Lesperance was looking forward to having friends and family cheer for his wheelchair basketball team in Chicago at the 2016 Summer Paralympics.

But then he learned Friday that Rio de Janeiro was selected as host city for the games.

“I was very excited to hear we had the possibility of getting (the games) here in America,” Lesperance said. “And just having family come down and actually see you play is something special.

“They may never get that opportunity ever again, and I may never compete in an Olympics in the United States.”

The Paralympics are hosted by the same city as the Summer Olympics. Chicago was competing against Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo.

Lesperance plays wheelchair basketball for UW-Whitewater and recently competed for Team USA in the America’s Zone Qualifying Tournament in Vancouver Canada. The national team included five UW-Whitewater alumni, Lesperance, senior Nate Hinze and UW-Whitewater head coach Jeremy Lade.

Lesperance’s first big break came in 2008, when he competed at the Paralympics in Beijing.

“It was a blast; it was my first time ever being in an USA team,” he said. “I was kind of the new guy, and I learned so much from the other guys, and that really benefited me as a player. I feel I have improved greatly from that experience.

“But I guess it’s not going to happen in 2016.”

UW-Whitewater Athletics Director Paul Plinske was disappointed, too. He was eyeing the opportunity of placing the university on the international spotlight by playing host to an international athletic delegation.

“It would probably be a significant boost to our facility structure and provide opportunities for internships, to organize special events and host various exhibition matches,” he said.

“Unfortunately, our students and our campus as a whole missed on that opportunity.”

In addition to housing athletes at UW-Whitewater, Walworth County could have benefited from up to $1.5 million in direct tourist revenue, said Fred Burkhardt, executive vice president for the non-profit Walworth County Economic Development Alliance.

Plinske said the economic impact would have been significant for students on professional and personal levels.

“It’s unfortunate, but that’s how things go,” he said.

Lesperance said he continues to practice hard every day and is looking forward to UW-Whitewater’s upcoming seasons. He’s playing at next year’s world championships in Birmingham, England.

Tryouts are in March, and he’s already eyeing the opportunity.

“I hope I’m a part of that team,” he said. “I work out every day, practice. Just gotta work on some more stuff.”

Last updated: 11:49 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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