Port High AD nets a final gold

Three-time Paralympic athlete Nate Hinze of Cedar Grove caps his wheelchair basketball career by helping Team USA win the gold medal at Tokyo games

PORT WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL Athletic Director Nate Hinze (above) brought his Paralympic gold medal to school on Tuesday, along with a sketch of himself on a Japanese fan done by a friend of the team’s translator. Hinze has won two gold medals and one bronze as a wheelchair basketball player, most recently a gold after the USA beat Japan, 64-60, on Saturday night. Hinze played in the Port High gym before leaving for Tokyo (right). Photos by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Nate Hinze has gone out with gold.

The three-time Paralympic wheelchair basketball player from Cedar Grove and Port Washington High School athletic director helped the USA win the gold medal at the Tokyo games in his final competition.

Hinze, 33, said he would retire after these games and is comfortable with his decision.

“It sunk in that this was the last one probably about a week into the trip. It’s just a long time to be gone from the kids,” he said, adding he was away from his wife and three children 6 and younger from Aug. 11 to Sept. 6.

When his children, who don’t yet grasp the Paralympics, wonder where their father was, he can show them his shiny new piece of hardware.

“Being able to win the gold on top of it makes it even sweeter,” Hinze said.

With a 14-hour time difference, Hinze and his family set a schedule to talk on the phone each day.

Hinze won gold in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and bronze in 2012 in London, along with a silver at the 2014 world championships.

The latest gold didn’t come easily. Japan took leads of 8-0 and 14-6 in the first quarter. Team USA battled back to a five-point halftime lead but was down by one entering the fourth quarter before pulling out a 64-60 victory late Saturday night.

“It was fun to have a close game, but I’m sure people at home don’t appreciate the close ones,” Hinze said. “Japan, to their credit, didn’t go away.”

Hinze didn’t play in the game and he was fine with that, too.

“I’m totally OK with my role coming off the bench in case we need it,” he said.

Hinze got to play in earlier games against Spain, Australia, Algeria and Iran.

This Paralympic experience was different than the others. While the Zika virus kept Hinze’s family from going to Brazil in 2016, nobody was allowed to attend the Tokyo games, already delayed a year due to Covid-19. Arenas were mostly empty.

“It put a little damper on the games, but we had to put it in perspective that we at least had the games,” Hinze said.

Teams were limited to the Paralympic village, so sightseeing wasn’t possible.

“You understand the importance of staying healthy. If one of us was to test positive at some point, it would affect the whole team,” Hinze said.

While the cafeteria offered buffet lines with a variety of cuisine from across the world, it only rotated every eight days.

“You get sick of stuff pretty quickly. It’s cafeteria food for three weeks,” Hinze said.

He and his teammates ordered Uber Eats twice. Hinze said Japanese hamburgers — hambagu — “were phenomenal.”

The gold medal celebration after the game was limited. The USA team was put into quarantine after the semifinal because a player from Iran tested positive. Hinze scored six points in a 65-41 win over Iran on Aug. 27 and said he wasn’t sure why the quarantine was delayed to Sept. 3, after the USA beat Spain, 66-52.

Team members were relegated to their rooms. They couldn’t go to the cafeteria or village. But they still celebrated.

“We were up pretty late that night. We were hanging out,” Hinze said.

One change Hinze loved was the medal ceremony. To limit touching the medals and spreading germs, each player took a medal from a tray and put it on his teammate next to him.

Steve Serio, the gold medal game’s star with 28 points and a good friend of Hinze, put the final medal around his neck, then gave him a huge hug.

Hinze put the medal around Trey Jenifer of Maryland, who scored nine points in the game and has been playing with Hinze since 2009, then gave him a big hug.

“I hope it’s one of those changes they keep moving forward,” Hinze said.

It was 15 years ago that Hinze lost a portion of his leg due to cancer, cutting short his multiple-sport career at Cedar Grove-Belgium High School. He joined the wheelchair basketball team at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater before being chosen for the Paralympics multiple times.

It’s that experience he can share with students at Port Washington High School.

“I had to put in the hard work to get to the level I’m at. Things aren’t going to be given to us,” he said.

“I was also grateful for the opportunity to find a sport I can play after going through my cancer treatment.”

Hinze wants to pass along that appreciation to Port High athletes.

“It’s not always about winning and losing. It’s just being able to compete. You’re not sure when the last time will be,” he said.

Hinze’s last time was golden.

Another Paralympian with a local connection — Kaitlyn Verfuerth is a Port High graduate who lives in Arizona — was seeking her first medal in Tokyo.

Verfuerth had competed in wheelchair tennis and switched sports to kayaking and canoeing, a rarity among Paralympians. The USA’s top two participants got disqualified in the trials, vaulting Verfuerth into the games with months to prepare.

She finished ninth in canoeing and 13th in kayaking with plans to medal in Paris in 2024.

“I had a really good experience. I learned a lot,” she said.

Trials for 2024 are in a year.

“That’s plenty of time. Not three months,” Verfuerth joked.


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