Indiana University is known as a basketball school, with nationally ranked men’s and women’s teams. An organization with growing popularity hopes to help all students and community members — including those who use wheelchairs — play the Hoosier state’s favorite sport.
The Wheelchair Basketball Club at IU was founded in 2017 by then-students Evan Davis and Cat Bouwkamp and associate professor Jennifer Piatt of the School of Public Health-Bloomington. The club not only gives members lessons in and opportunities to play basketball, but it also creates awareness to promote accessibility for those in wheelchairs. Members host outreach events and demo days to engage with the community.
Anyone can join the club, regardless of whether they have a disability or use a wheelchair. Daisey Smith, the current president of the Wheelchair Basketball Club, is a graduate student in applied health science and joined the team after seeing an advertisement to fill an executive board position for the club. Despite not being in a wheelchair herself, she quickly got a grasp of the sport and gained a passion for it.
“Being a part of the club, I have gained a lot, from unexpected friendships to having the opportunity to be a voice for campus accessibility advocacy as well as it being a fun addition to my fitness regimen,” Smith said.
IU students aren’t the only ones reaping the benefits of the club; Bloomington community members with or without disabilities, students from community colleges, homeschooled students and veterans are all invited to play with the club. Currently, one member is a homeschooled student from outside IU, but previously veterans have come out to play as well. Recently the club has started to compete recreationally again, with their next game scheduled March 4 in Indianapolis.
“Members of the club benefit from strengthening their upper bodies, such as their core and back muscles,” Smith said. “It is also a healthy and happy social group that is an inclusive opportunity for recreation at IU and for the Bloomington community.”
The inclusivity of the club contributed to the growth it has been experiencing. Public health students can also volunteer to meet graduation requirements. During COVID-19, several members graduated, leaving only two returning members. The club gained a large group of freshmen and sophomores in August, mostly from word of mouth and exposure at Rec Fest. At least 10 to 12 regulars attend practice weekly, and the entire roster is almost 20 people.
“When everyone is sitting in a chair, we are all on an equal playing field regardless of ability,” Smith said. “It can be difficult to tell who even has a disability or not during gameplay. Only two members of our roster currently have any type of disability, so most of our players are just students who are interested in a fun way to be active while bridging that accessibility gap at the same time.”
Smith joined the club with no idea where it would take her. Now, more than two years later, she is still part of the club as the president. Adaptive recreation has become her passion and turned into a potential post-grad career.