Rough-riding Theo

Caudal Regression Syndrome has not stopped Theo Church from becoming an athlete who thrives on the hardwood.

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Sports

July 24, 2020 - 3:26 PM

Theo Church at Riverside Park before watching the AA Indians take on Yates Center last Thursday. Photo by Erick Mitchell / Iola Register

COLONY — Athletes come in all shapes and sizes — Theo Church is no different. 

Theo was born with Caudal Regression syndrome, a spinal disorder that impairs the development of the lower half of the body. Daily tasks can be hard, but ever since he was a baby, Theo has learned how to adapt. 

“He has been super healthy, and has just done things different,” his mother LeAnn said. “He has gotten along really well and adapted, and has gotten straight A’s always in school. It doesn’t hurt his learning, and he has always known a lot about sports — probably more than most.”

This summer, Theo has spent the majority of his time in various dugouts across Southeast Kansas as the A Iola Indians team manager. His brother, Trevor, is one of the key cogs in Iola’s pitching rotation. 

Theo loves sports, and relishes any chance to be around it. 

“Last year, whenever Trevor played traveling ball, I was always in the dugout,” Theo said. “Doing that last year just really made me want me to be in the dugout again this year.”

Theo’s father and assistant Indians coach, Travis Church, highlights that Theo is just like every other Indian in the dugout, and perhaps even more knowledgeable of the ins and outs of baseball. 

At the Indians tournament in Emporia on June 20, the rules stated no one other than the players and coaching personnel could be in the dugout. Worried if his son would be included, Indians head coach John Taylor confirmed to Travis that Theo counts as player/coach personnel.

“They like him there because he cares so much about the game,” Travis said. “They appreciate him there, and carry on a conversation about the game in there with him.”

Theo loves baseball, but it is hard for him to compete due to limited options in the area. The one time Theo did get to play in an organized fashion was at the Miracle League in Joplin. He didn’t enjoy it. 

“Nobody won,” Theo said. 

Still, Theo finds time to work on his game. He frequently plays catch with his brother and even attended the Royals Fantasy Camp last summer sponsored by Variety KC. A big Royals fan, Theo enjoyed his time improving his skills and hanging out with the players.

“I got to go to the small field at the Royals’ stadium, where they have certain events, and there were some players who I got to meet,” Theo said. “It was pretty fun.” 

Baseball is cool for Theo, but he channels his competitive instinct on the hardwood. Theo competes in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association for the Kansas City Kings, in honor of the city’s ex-professional franchise. 

“They practice once a week, every Thursday night,” Travis said. “Usually we can’t make it every time because he will be working with the football or basketball team, but we try to make it at least every other week.”

The Kings practice at the Hy-Vee Arena in Kansas City, and are coming off an 11-15 season. The Kings qualified for nationals in Wichita after competing in cities across the Midwest. Theo and his family ventured to Rockford, Ill., Oklahoma City, along with Cedar Falls and Des Moines, Iowa. 

The Kings were the 13th seed in the prep division (ages 8-14) for the national tournament scheduled to take place from March 12-14. But like every other athlete across the world, Theo had his sporting event canceled due to COVID-19. 

Theo Church looks on from the dugout earlier this season. Photo by Erick Mitchell / Iola Register

LeAnn highlights that the car was packed and ready to go when they heard the news that nationals had been canceled. Theo was devastated.

“I was mad,” Theo said. “I don’t really think about it a lot right now because it is baseball season, but still.” 

On the court, Theo is a playmaking guard who looks to set screens to create the best possible shot for his teammates. In fact, Theo has been dubbed the “pick-man” for his well-set screens on defenders. 

“I put my wheels between the other person’s wheel that is trying to guard the man in the post on my team so they can get an open shot,” Theo said. 

Dribbling the basketball in wheelchair basketball has certain complications that the rules man knows best. 

“You dribble, and can do it any way. There is no double-dribble, but there is a travel. If you push twice on your wheels, you have to dribble, and if not then they call it a travel — but they don’t sometimes.”

Like regular basketball, wheelchair basketball is a contact sport. Although Theo may not be one of the larger kids on his team, he still ruffles some feathers when needed. 

“There is normally this one person from Nebraska who we try to ram every game because he is really good,” Theo said. 

On the court, Theo is known for his competitiveness. 

“He will get furious if the refs make a bad call, but then he eventually just moves on and goes on about the game,” LeAnn said.

Theo will have to wait his turn to get on the hardwood again until next winter. In the meantime, he has all the time in the world to improve his game. Star athletes bring publicity, but ballers like Theo remind us that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. 

“From a young age, he figured out how to do stuff and didn’t complain,” LeAnn said. “He just knew this is the way it is, and just makes the best of it and goes on.”

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