Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Members of the Wounded Warrior Amputees team Zimmer, Matt Kinsey, left, Christian Sutton, right, and Malik Robinson, back, congratulate Roman Sweeney, center, after he hit a buzzer beater shot against the Atlanta All Stars during the basketball challenge game at Peachtree Ridge in Suwanee. Sweeney was born with no legs and half an arm. Kinsey is now an amputee after stepping on a land mine while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. The Atlanta All Stars team is composed of NBA, NFL and MLB stars who came out to support wounded warriors.
SUWANEE -- Everybody wins at a Wounded Warrior game.
That goes for softball, golf and whatever else the traveling athlete-veterans undertake.
"It's a group of tough-minded people," said Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward, who showed up Friday night at Peachtree Ridge High School, his alma mater.
The professional football player was one of dozens of other pro and college athletes who signed up for Friday night's exhibition.
Peachtree Ridge hosted the inaugural Final Four Friday Wounded Warrior Amputee Team vs. Atlanta All-Stars Celebrity Challenge, a hoops fundraiser event that aimed to demonstrate support for wounded American soldiers.
All proceeds benefited the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team and Peachtree Ridge High School's designated charities.
In addition to Heyward, the basketball game featured former NBA, NFL and Atlanta area players.
But the real stars were the Wounded Warriors, said former University of Georgia basketball coach Hugh Durham, who served as the Wounded Warriors' honorary coach.
"We talk the talk, but they walk the walk," Durham said as a group of several hundred in the stands applauded, standing to cheer on the group of former soldiers.
It was not an empty gesture, said Matias Ferreira, a member of the Wounded Warriors team and a former U.S. Marine who served from 2008 to 2012 in Afghanistan before losing both of his legs in battle.
Dodging enemy fire, the machine gunner jumped off a rooftop during patrol. He landed on a bomb.
"Being here tonight," Ferreira said, "is all about seeing the smiles on these kids' faces. I had an opportunity to live my life with both limbs, and I'm here to let them know that the loss of a limb does not mean the end of an athletic career."
Ferreira is quoting the team motto. Wounded Warrior executive director Marc Leonard said it rings true.
"The best part about these games is that the average person sees people who may have lost limbs in a whole different light," Leonard said. "People are able to see that people with disabilities like this can still be very athletic and can lead normal, happy lives."
The Wounded Warriors have played many softball exhibitions and gone up against former NFL stars in flag football at each of the last two Super Bowls, but it was the group's first basketball game.
The celebrity athletes who showed up did it for free, Leonard said. "They do it because it's something they want to do."
Among them were basketball Hall-of-Famers Dave Cowens and Artis Gilmore, former Atlanta Braves outfielder Brian Jordan and former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Jessie Tuggle.
Young athletes like Melissa Turvy, a Peachtree Ridge basketball player, were there, too.
Turvy said she showed up "out of respect for the people who fight for our country. I think it shows courage and bravery what they did, and it's great that they haven't let injuries slow them down."
That's the idea, said David Van Sleet, head coach of the Wounded Warrior team.
"These guys out here tonight are doing OK," Van Sleet said. "We want the world to know that some guys can come back from the war wounded ... but continue to live happy lives."
For more information, visit www.woundedwarrioramputeesoftballteam.org.