Five able-bodied people circled their wheelchairs around Rob Harrison, a volunteer for the Department of University Recreation who uses an electric wheelchair and has Cerebral palsy, before the game to go over tips and rules.
A small group of students and UA staff meet every Wednesday at the Health, Physical Education, and Recreation Building to play a pick-up game of basketball — in wheelchairs.
They play from 5-6 p.m., rolling around the court and crashing into each other’s chairs. Instead of the typical dribbling, the person with the ball moves their chair twice and then must bounce or pass the ball. Any use of a player’s legs is prohibited.
Harrison has volunteered for the program for the past seven years. He helped revive the sport after speaking to UREC staff and learning wheelchairs were available. Since then, Harrison has played with students and faculty.
“It doesn’t matter what your ability is; it’s a way people can play a game together,” Harrison said. “I don’t come down and tell any of the players this is about disability awareness. I say, ‘Here’s a game. These are the tools to play. Let’s have a game.’”
Harrison’s interest in wheelchair basketball started back in New Hampshire, he said. He used to live there, until Harrison met a girl and moved to Arkansas. Since moving, he has looked for accessible activities to participate in.
Laura Shively, coordinator of Clubs and Intramural Sports, plays when she can and thinks wheelchair basketball offers students with disabilities a way to participate in games, she said.
“All of our activities really can be adapted for anyone,” Shively said. “We have personal trainers if people need adapted fitness, and we also have adapted climbing.”
Harrison always looks for inclusive activities to engage in, he said. For instance, he has parachuted and wants to go ziplining, hang gliding and skiing as well.
“Speed is another thing I like,” Harrison said. “I can make my power chair move really fast on the court. I love it.”
Junior Reilly Veidt, who is also a UREC staff member, has played wheelchair basketball for three weeks, she said. She thinks playing in a wheelchair adds a new challenge to the sport she loves.
“It puts a lot of things in perspective for me,” Veidt said. “At any moment, something could happen in my life where I might be in a wheelchair. It makes me have a lot of respect for people who are disabled or have a disability.”
She encourages other students to participate because it is an opportunity to meet new people and be out of one’s comfort zone, Veidt said.
“Wednesdays are a time where I know I can be myself no matter what and I’ll be accepted,” Veidt said. “It’s a really cool environment of people who just want to have fun.”
Veidt is familiar with disabilities because her mother is a special needs teacher, she said. She also knows a former high school teammate who became paralyzed and now plays in the Paralympics for wheelchair basketball.
Harrison simply wants to provide an inclusive environment for the campus that does not focus on skill, he said.
“I can’t shoot for instance personally, but I can screen or block,” Harrison said. “Just have fun all together and don’t worry about it. That’s the main thing.”
Although the games on Wednesday are not competitive, the team will have an exhibition game Oct. 16 against the Fort Smith Shooting Stars, a national wheelchair basketball team, Shively said. This event is open to the Fayetteville community and university students at the HPER from 5-7 p.m.