Leigh is a big talker, so when he challenged Dickie Bryant, board chairman of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association to a basketball game, Bryant accepted.
“I started talking smack to this guy, and he started talking smack back to me. I said, ‘I’d probably whoop your ass.’ He said he doubted it and so we started talking about having a challenge match,” Leigh said Friday.
The exchange gave birth to the 2012 National Tournament All Star Smack-Down Match, a game Thursday between the association’s championship division players and a team Leigh is recruiting that will play against the professional athletes in wheelchairs.
“We’re talking about stacking our team so we can win because we think these guys are going to be studs and pound the crap out of us,” Leigh said. “We’re a little bit concerned about how bad we’re going to get beat.”
Leigh should be concerned, said Randy Schubert, the association’s executive director.
“I actually want to see him squirm a little bit,” Schubert said.
“We have NBA teams that will be in chairs against our players,” he said. “We had the Cleveland Cavaliers play a group of our players. At the end of the first half, I think our team was up by about 20 points. We flipped the score board, and we gave them the 20-point lead, and we ended up beating them by 15.”
Leigh said the VIP game wasn’t a slam dunk.
The association, headquartered in Colorado Springs, previously held its national championship tournaments in Denver, but the board was looking for alternative locations.
“A couple of their board members are from North Carolina and so they were thinking about moving it to North Carolina,” Leigh said.
“I said, ‘Why don’t we have it in Colorado Springs? Their answer was, ‘Because the business community down there has not been that friendly previously to really help us.’ I said, ‘I bet I know a councilman who can help with that process.’”
The Daniels Foundation and El Pomar Foundation and others came forward with sponsorships, he said. District 11 is “very graciously” allowing the association to use some of their high schools to play games.
“We’re going to have preliminary games in District 1l schools, and it’s going to culminate with the national championship game over at the United States Olympic Training Center,” he said.
The association’s decision to hold the national tournament in Colorado Springs is a “huge, huge feather” for the city, Leigh said.
“We want to really turn this into an annual event in Colorado Springs,” he said. “We’re already talking about having these same guys bring the international tournament to Colorado Springs next summer.”
But in the immediate future, Leigh is looking for good athletes and says he wants to form a team that includes people of multiple ethnicities and gays and lesbians.
“What a great opportunity to really showcase how we embrace all these different communities in Colorado Springs,” he said.
Leigh and Schubert said it wasn’t insensitive for people to play against the professional athletes in wheelchairs.
“Would you rather have us not be in wheelchairs and go out there and play against guys in wheelchairs?” Leigh asked.
“We use it as an education piece,” Schubert said. “If you come out and see our players, they are fantastic athletes who just happen to be in wheelchairs.”
The game Thursday will be at the Olympic Training Center. The game, which is free, starts at 3:15 p.m.