Sidelined club tries to draw interest

The nearly year-old Adapted Sports Club has yet to participate in a match.

Justin Horwath

For about a year, the Adapted Sports Club members have been on deck, waiting for student interest to propel them into the gym and eventually an adapted sports league.

But today’s event at the University Recreation Center will be the student group’s third attempt this year at getting the word out about the club – even to students without disabilities.

John Lukanen, Adaptive Sports Club president and human resource and development senior, said the club currently has five board members and is still at the “building stages.” They would eventually like to gain enough interest to hold monthly matches next year, and, sometime in the future, to form a well established team, whether it be basketball, soccer or baseball.

“You have to ask: What is the demand for it? What is the interest?” Lukanen said. “If there really is no interest, it’s hard to make something go.”

where to go

Adapted sports day
What: Participate in adapted sports, such as basketball and soccer. Everyone is welcome.
When: 2 to 4 p.m. today
Where: University recreation center, north gym

For now, the club remains on the sidelines – they have never held a competitive match – and the state of adaptive sports at the University pales in comparison to more established programs at Big Ten universities.

Teri Jordan, disability recreation director and ability athletics coach at Penn State University, has overseen a program that provides recreation opportunities like wheelchair basketball for students with disabilities for eight years. She said she doesn’t think adaptive sports have been pushed at the college level.

“I think if you have a passion, you should express it,” she said. “Maybe we just need to tell administrators that we need to do it.”

Jordan helped launch the adaptive recreation program at Penn State in 1999 with two disabled track athletes and said the wheelchair basketball team played in local matches for the first seven years, but recently started traveling.

She pointed to the University of Illinois, which built its adapted sports program in the 1970s with injured war veterans returning from Vietnam as an example to mirror.

“If you look at what the (Iraq) war is creating right now, our federal government should really be supporting these programs,” she said. “And universities as well.”

Peggy Mann Rinehart, associate director of disability student services, said that part of the problem is the University “currently doesn’t have a mass of people who use wheelchairs.”

“We have phenomenal wheelchair athletes, basketball players, in (Minnesota) high schools right now and they would love to come to the

University of Minnesota,” she said. “But we don’t have a team.”

Take, for instance, Minnetonka High School sophomore Ben Kenyon, who co-captains the varsity wheelchair basketball team at the Courage Center. The center provides recreation opportunities for community youth with disabilities.

In his college search, a wheelchair basketball team would “probably be the most important factor,” he said.

“I’d like to keep playing basketball as long as I can,” Kenyon said. “I enjoy competition of actual basketball. It’s the best.”

Rinehart said Disability Services is collaborating with the Disabled Student Cultural Center and the University Recreation Center to get together a wheelchair basketball team that would take three years to establish.

However, Jessica Novotny, sports club program director with the Department of Recreational Sports and the adviser for the Adapted Sports Club, doesn’t see the lack of interest in the club as an issue.

“It’s a club in its young stages and adaptive sports are something that is necessary on campus,” she said. “I think it’s just a matter of time that we let the population know all the opportunities we have for

them.”