Local athletes among millions to watch international event online

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- A major international sporting event just ended, but it is highly likely you never knew it was happening. 

The Paralympic Games take place after every Olympics. Here in the Valley, the next generation of athletes was watching closely.

The Paralympic Games opened with the same pomp and circumstance as the London Olympics.    Then the athletes competed in track and field, swimming, wheelchair basketball and other sports adapted for people with physical disabilities.

One of the most popular sports for spectators is wheelchair rugby, known to some as "murder-ball" for its level of contact.     

In London, the sport saw sold out crowds of more than 10,000 daily.

At the Virgina G. Piper Sports and Fitness Center in Phoenix, the Banner Wheelchair Suns held a team meeting as they start their season. The wheelchair basketball team has a traveling squad, and youth teams start before the age of ten.  One group played a scrimmage after the meeting, but off the court many had been watching the Paralympics

“I've been watching them online pretty much every day,” said 17-year-old Stephen Binning, who was born with spina bifida. “And watching the highlight shows on TV.”

Binning is a member of the junior wheelchair basketball team, but enjoys competing in and watching track events.

“I'm a sprinter,” he said. “So, I do the one, two and 400.”

Sixteen-year-old Joe Underwood likes the team camaraderie of basketball, but says swimming is his better sport.  And he's a big fan of the international games.

“The athletes in the Paralympics are just as world class as the Olympic athletes,” said Underwood.

These sporting events are not broadcast on TV and the athletes do not have big endorsement deals.  But many observers said this year's games showed signs of becoming mainstream.

South African Oscar Pistorius competed in the Olympics, then won gold in the Paralympics.  While you couldn't turn on the television to see it, the Paralympics website streamed events live, and the YouTube site has almost 12,000,000 views.

“That should be enough to put them on TV,” said Binning. “I guess there's more work to do.”

“They say the reason they don't televise it is because they don't make enough money on it,” said Underwood. “They don't get enough viewers, but the way I look at it, if they never televise it, people are never going to know about it.”

While it may not be the intense spotlight of the Olympics, the Paralympics has proven a worthy place to showcase athletic talent.  Athletes broke records this year and the level of competition is rising.  Binning and Underwood are both training for Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

The London Paralympic Games were the largest in history with more than 4,000 athletes from 166 countries.