By Kaci Demarest
Photo by Loren Worthington\
The ASU wheelchair basketball team has made its presence known in its inaugural season of play.
The community caught its first glimpse of the team at the 3rd Annual Duel in the Desert in October at Ability360. The team faced off against other wheelchair basketball teams from the University of Arizona, the Tucson Lobos and the Banner Mercury and Suns teams.
ASU’s roster consists of nine athletes who practice five days a week for two and a half hours in the mornings at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex in Downtown Phoenix.
Jennifer Ruddell and Loraine Gonzales coach the ASU Wheelchair basketball team, which was formed to allow students with disabilities to play as a collegiate student-athlete through a grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.
“A lot of times you don’t have the chance to go to college for both athletics and academics, so it’s really nice to be part of a team whose members are really dedicated and work hard on bettering themselves academically, individually and as a team,” graduate student Kelly Goodman said.
Currently, anyone can play on the ASU wheelchair basketball team as long as they are students at ASU.
The National Wheelchair Basketball Association, on the other hand, only permits athletes with a permanent lower limb disability to play; however, the NWBA passed a rule at the intercollegiate division to allow able-bodied individuals to participate.
Because the team is in its inaugural season, it was formed as a co-ed team in order to have enough players. Ruddell said that next season the team will be split into separate men’s and women’s teams. For the time being, ASU plays against men’s teams in tournaments.
“Our strengths are that we are in shape, fast, learn easily and are developing very quickly as a beginning team,” Ruddell said. “Our weaknesses are that we lack experience and the practice at the small fundamentals that make you into a national championship contender, but we will get there.”
Their first run on the tournament scene was Nov. 6-7 in Arlington, Texas. The team won their first game 56-45 over Auburn. They dropped their games against University Texas Arlington, Alabama, and Dallas, who is the number one ranked team in the country.
The ASU wheelchair basketball team isn’t the only team playing in the state. The University of Arizona dominates the wheelchair basketball landscape in Tucson alongside the Tucson Lobos.
Around the Valley, the Banner Mercury and Suns wheelchair basketball teams play a regular November to March schedule, which includes around 20 to 35 games per season as they compete around the country.
Follow ASU wheelchair basketball on Facebook and on Twitter @SpokesandForks. ASU’s next tournament is in Wichita, Kansas, January 15th-16th.
ASU Student, Sports Journalism
Kaci is a sophomore at Arizona State University, majoring in Sports Journalism. She co-hosts Double X Sports, a talk show about women’s sports on the college radio station, Blaze Radio. After college she aims to work as an on field sports broadcaster. Native to Arizona, she enjoys hiking, watching sports, and going to concerts.