For decades, IU’s basketball programs have been iconic.
Capitalizing on this tradition in a new and inclusive way, wheelchair basketball was piloted as an IU club sport Nov. 9, offering IU’s favorite sport to people of all abilities.
The club sport is headed by President Evan Davis, a senior, and Vice President Cat Bouwkamp, a senior. The club sport officially began this year, but had been in the works since 2012 , when faculty adviser Jennifer Piatt realized there was no adaptive sports offered at IU.
“At the end of the day, I truly believe it’s a human right to be involved in sport,” Piatt said. “So at the end of my career if I have made this possible for more people, if I have made access to sport easier, I will have done my job.”
In 2014, Piatt and a few other community members interested in adaptive sports held clinics at a Bloomington YMCA for sports such as wheelchair basketball, adaptive bocce and adaptive cycling. However, the clinics had no funding, so the adaptive sports at IU stopped until they received a Veterans Affairs Adaptive Sports grant.
Davis and Bouwkamp became involved with wheelchair basketball when writing an application for the grant because Davis is a Marine Corps veteran and Bouwkamp is a Paralympian.
“Once I helped with the grant and became more invested, my passion grew and grew,” Davis said. “I didn’t look back after that.”
In October, IU received the funds from the grant and a month later, the pilot event debuted. Held at The Warehouse, a recreational sports venue in Bloomington, it attracted a wide range of people.
“We had some scholarship athletes there, some water polo players, and they were getting so excited going 'this is incredible that this is available for others,’” Piatt said.
The best part for Piatt was the former military personnel at the event.
“At one point I was standing on the side just watching them all interact, from older veterans, some of whom who served in Vietnam, to those like Evan who just got out of the Marine Corps and arrived at campus,” Piatt said. “For someone not involved in the military and seeing the power and commitment they had together, it was indescribable.”
While this was their first official event, Davis said it was not his favorite memory of this club.
“It’s the little things, like watching somebody smile while using the chair,” Davis said. “Or it could be somebody responding their support. I think the most memorable thing, other than our most recent event, was that IU shared our story and offered their support in letting not only our small community of students, but everyone connected IU see that now this exists.”
Bouwkamp echoed this sentiment.
“It’s been really cool seeing how truly inclusive we can make this campus," Bouwkamp said.
Bouwkamp, Davis and Piatt all agreed that IU’s full acceptance of adaptive sports has made starting the club special because it's open to the entire Bloomington community. Yet, with this inclusion comes the responsibility to educate the community on adaptive sports, from its different rules to disabilities of its athletes.
Davis said this wasn't the community’s fault, and emphasized his role as an educator.
“It’s like when you’re going down a new path when you’re hiking,” Davis said. “You’re unsure, you don’t know the process. So when you have somebody who knows it and can explain it, it makes it easier to go through.”
Going forward, Davis and Bouwkamp said they hope to see their program grow and possibly expand to other sports.
“We hope this club will be overall known in the sense that this increases the awareness about people with disabilities in the Bloomington campus, this increasing the education of the general public about adaptive sports,” Bouwkamp said. “I think it wouldn't be too far off to say that we hope this club become somewhat competitive. But the first step is just using this club as an education tool for the community.”
Davis emphasized how important the program is for the IU community.
“The question isn’t, ‘Is there an adaptive program?’” Davis said. “It’s ‘What adaptive program can I get involved in?’”
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