Kyle Sumner couldn’t possibly have projected ahead when he graduated from Coast Union in 2002 that — after one year of football, four years of golf and four years of conventional basketball — 14 years later he would be dribbling, passing, shooting three-pointers and grabbing rebounds on a unicycle in the UniCon 18 Unicycling World Championships.
Or that his team — the SLO Ballerz Unicycle Basketball Team — would win the silver medal in that unicycling tournament in San Sebastian, Spain, two years after winning the bronze medal in the world championships in Montreal, Canada.
Interviewed by phone Monday, Aug. 15, after returning from Spain to his job as manager of the flagship BevMo wine and spirits store in Walnut Creek, Sumner was pleased that the team went 11-2 in Spain, and won silver. But he was noticeably discontented at losing to the French unicycling team (called WOOM – which means “Man on One Wheel”) again. The final score in the championship game was 30-15.
“The only two games we lost were to the French,” Sumner said. “We haven’t been able to beat this French team yet,” and that includes losing to the French at Montreal. “We’re all highly motivated to go up against that French team in South Korea in 2018,” he said.
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In Montreal (in 2014) it was a squeaked-by bronze. ... But this year, making it to the gold medal game was significantly easier. So we went from a distant third to a pretty competitive second place in Spain.
Kyle Sumner, Coast Union graduate and basketball unicyclist
Referring to the silver medal in Spain as “quite bittersweet,” Sumner said the contrast between his team’s third-place finish in Montreal and the second-place finish in Spain, “was more than just bronze to silver.”
“In Montreal it was a squeaked-by bronze. We had to fight a battle to the finish to even get third. But this year, making it to the gold medal game was significantly easier. So we went from a distant third to a pretty competitive second place in Spain.”
The SLO Ballerz went into that “pretty exciting” championship game in Spain on Aug. 6, “thinking we had a chance to win. After the game we were all disappointed, but there we were, a group of friends in Spain, and so we managed to talk ourselves into having some fun that night, celebrating the fact that we had come pretty close.”
The A tournament, in which the SLO Ballerz team was entered, featured 10 international teams, so defeating nine of 10 teams is something of an accomplishment. But Sumner and his teammates are competitive and hated to lose to the French again.
The unicycle game uses a standard size basketball court and standard basket height. Positions on the team are more flexible than in conventional basketball. The SLO Ballerz have a point guard, but the other players are constantly moving, defending and positioning for rebounds.
“I’m one of two guys on our team who are three-point shooters. I’m 6-2 and I ride a 24-inch unicycle, so my pedals are about 12 inches off the ground,” said Sumner, who was initially introduced to the sport by Mark Wilder, founder of the juggling duo “Something Ridiculous.”
The SLO Ballerz team practices in Meadow Park in San Luis Obispo on Tuesdays 4:30 p.m. Interested unicyclists are welcome to attend practices, and as a rule the team brings a spare unicycle or two for beginning riders. For more information, go to SLO Ballerz Unicycle Basketball on Facebook or to www.sloballerz.com.