John Tolley, March 14, 2019
There is a club at Indiana University that meets three times a week to practice their pastime. Membership is fairly open with this group. It doesn't matter if you walk in the door or roll, whether you're a veteran or not; this club is open to all students and members of the community.
This is the Indiana University Wheelchair Basketball Club.
"It's all about competition and having fun," says Evan Davis, club president and a U.S. Marine Corp veteran. "It's about creating a supportive network where we can learn from each other to create a better environment, create a better community."
Davis, a recreational therapy student, founded the club in 2017, along with classmate Cat Bouwkamp and Jennifer Piatt, an associate professor in the School of Public Health at IU. From the outset, the club was envisioned as a way to not only increase adaptive sports on campus, but to bring together individuals of all walks of life to bond over sport.
"We're Hoosiers; we play basketball, that's what we do," says Piatt.
The club specifically targets their outreach to people with disabilities and veterans because of the special bond between the two groups. "Military veterans and people with disabilities both have this unique sense of fight and unique drive because they've had to overcome different obstacles within their lives," says Bouwkamp, who was born with a condition that affects the musculature of her right leg.
That outreach notwithstanding, the club keeps its doors open to all who wish to share in the fellowship. It is an integral part of their mission to create meaningful connections.
"Exposure is what really starts the conversation," Davis explains. "So, having individuals of all ability levels is extremely important because they get to share that experience with someone with a disability a veteran that may start to trust you and may start to open up."
The club also benefits from and is a valuable resource to the university's Recreational Therapy program, which Piatt explains is one of the largest in the nation. By working with the Wheelchair Basketball club, the students gain credit hours towards their degree as well as the singular experience of aiding their peers and members of their community.
"One of the really unique things about this is you have students with disabilities, veterans, as well as future professionals who are going to be working with them all coming together on a college campus to learn about adapted sport and advocate for inclusion," notes Piatt.
For Bouwkamp, who is a US Paralympic fencer, it is that educational experience, both for recreational therapy students and attendees in general, that she says has incredible utility in expanding perspectives.
"That's been my favorite part about this club is that we're using the experiences that we know best in adaptive sports to educate the public about disability rights and disability awareness," Bouwkamp says. "I think the ultimate goal is kind of creating this network that is open and affirming to all people on the IU campus."