The pick-up basketball games that take place in SUNY Cortland’s Park Center on Thursday nights are hotly competitive and anything but ordinary.
That’s because the College’s wheelchair basketball program, now in its 12th year, adds a unique twist to a traditional sport. It’s not just a league for people who rely on wheelchairs. The program invites curious participants who are willing to try a new sport.
Suzanne Leslie, a junior physical education major from Ossining, N.Y., serves as the program’s student advisor. She chose adaptive physical education as her concentration because she eventually wants to teach an integrated class.
“There are many able-bodied athletes who, when instructed to play in a wheelchair, see their talents challenged,” Leslie said. “Seeing that makes you appreciate athletes in wheelchairs more.”
Leslie is writing a grant for the wheelchair basketball league, which she calls “an open recreation program.” The program was launched with the efforts of Timothy Davis, the group’s faculty advisor and an associate professor of physical education, and Julian Wright, the College’s director of recreational sports.
But little funding is available for this endeavor that makes it through each week on a few basketballs and 10 refurbished wheelchairs.
Presently, three of the league’s wheelchairs require tire repairs.
“I wish there was more funding and opportunities for wheelchair sports,” said Erik Kylan, a wheelchair basketball participant from Syracuse, N.Y. “I just wish more people knew about wheelchair sports, that they even exist and what they entail.”
Kylan used to play for the Syracuse Flyers, a wheelchair basketball team that disbanded due to a lack of interest. He now travels to Cortland for the competition that draws roughly 20 participants each week.
Leslie said the week-to-week competitiveness has shown her what athletes in wheelchairs can accomplish.
“People normally only see disability when they see someone confined to a wheelchair,” she said. “(The athletes in wheelchairs) have true talent though. Here, they are able to display it. And making everyone feel accepted and equal is a great feeling.”
If the proper funding can be secured, the wheelchair basketball program could give way to other chair-themed activities at the College. Wheelchair football and sled hockey are two possibilities, Leslie said.
For more information on the wheelchair basketball program, contact Leslie.