Adaptive sports hope to score big at U

The Adaptive Sports Club aims to create a wheelchair basketball team on campus.

Amber Schadewald

The crowd cheered as metal clanged, replacing the usual squeak of tennis shoes on the gym floor at the University recreation center.

Swift on their wheels, three teams of wheelchair basketball players showcased their talents at Friday’s kickoff event for the Adaptive Sports Club.

The club officially began in spring 2006 as a collaboration among the Disabled Student Cultural Center, Disabled Services and Department of Recreation, but has yet to spark campus-wide interest.

Event organizers intended to generate support for the Adaptive Sports Club as well as propose the possibility of an official University wheelchair basketball team.

All of the athletes in Friday’s game were on teams from the Courage Center, a Minnesota-based rehabilitation and resource center.

The nonprofit organization created its first team in 1972 for World War II veterans. Now they have six wheelchair basketball teams, including the Junior Rolling Timberwolves, ranked third in the country.

Sharon Van Winkel, director of sports and recreation for the Courage Center, said Minnesota is home to an abundance of talented young wheelchair basketball players.

Van Winkel said she would love to see the University take the opportunity to create its own team.

“Let’s get (the athletes) here at the University,” she said. “Keep them at home.”

Fifteen-year-old Chuck Aoki, No. 12 for the Junior Rolling Timberwolves, has been playing adaptive basketball for eight years and said it will be a major deciding factor when he looks for potential colleges.

He said he would like to stay close to home after high school, but would only consider coming to the University if there were a wheelchair basketball team.

Sara Hegge, disability services specialist and staff adviser for the Adaptive Sports Club, said the idea is still in its early stages – Friday’s game being the first big push forward.

She said ideally, the addition of a competitive team would mean they could also offer scholarships to the incoming student-athletes.

The crowd of about 250 spectators included administrative officials such as Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart and Vice President of Equity and Diversity Nancy “Rusty” Barcelo, who Hegge said she hopes will continue the momentum forward.

Rachel Garaghty, a French junior and DSCC member, said she thinks the club is great for making adaptive sports more prominent on campus, providing a way for all people, even those without disabilities, to try their favorite sports in a new way.

During halftime at Friday’s game, members of the crowd tried to shoot a basket from one of the specially-designed sports-chairs.

Caitlin Haugan, a communications and social justice senior, managed to keep a smile on her face, even though the ball didn’t quite make it through the hoop.

“It’s hard – I just didn’t have enough arm strength,” she said. “I just couldn’t get it over the rim.”

DSCC member Liz Barrie, a psychology junior, said people often incorrectly associate disabilities with limitations, even though most adaptive sports are just as competitive as the original game.

Haugan and Barrie agreed adaptive sports haven’t been popular on campus because of a lack of possibilities, but rather a lack of publicity.

In the past, the DSCC has sponsored adaptive sports events, such as basketball and soccer, and are now planning a cross-country ski trip for this spring.

Jessica Novotny, sport club program director, said the goal of the Adaptive Sports Club right now is simply letting students, faculty and staff know of the adaptive recreation possibilities available.

Novotny said the Recreation Center currently has adaptive aquatic, weight and cardio equipment, and hopes to add group fitness and outdoor programs.