‘It’s about family’ in the Warhawks wheelchair basketball program

Senior+Jeromie+Meyer+moves+to+block+an+Edinboro+Mustang+player+from+going+closer+to+the+basket+during+their+game+on+Nov.+19th%2C+2021%2C+in+the+Kachel+Fieldhouse.

Morgan Guenther

Senior Jeromie Meyer moves to block an Edinboro Mustang player from going closer to the basket during their game on Nov. 19th, 2021, in the Kachel Fieldhouse.

Sam Strash, Assistant Sports Editor

Some of the world’s best athletes play in the collegiate ranks all across the country. From football and basketball to soccer and tennis, it takes great determination and copious amounts of practice for college athletes to get to this stage in their athletic career.

Wheelchair basketball is a little different. While the determination and practice requirements are still entirely applicable in this sport, nearly all of the participants are not able-bodied, making what these athletes do all the more special and noteworthy.

“Our coach used to call it a ‘thinking man’s game’,” said senior Jeromie Meyer, a health, human performance and recreation major from Nebraska. Meyer has been playing wheelchair basketball for the last 14 years following a car accident involving a drunk driver when Meyer was nine years old.

“I was injured riding my bicycle,” said Meyer. “I went to a rehabilitation hospital in Lincoln (Nebraska) and my recreational therapist introduced wheelchair basketball to me, and that’s kind-of what lit the fire. Once I found out about that, I reached out to the local adaptive sports program in Omaha and started playing as soon as possible.”

Meyer is a transfer student from the University of Nebraska-Omaha, he came to Whitewater when his previous institution shut down the program that offered his major. He joined the wheelchair basketball program once transferred, but acknowledged he was a little nervous at what to expect as he entered a new program.

“We all meshed well and played well together,” said Meyer. “I won’t forget those moments and games we played. Those guys are like my brothers. I never expected to come to a place and bond with all of those guys as well as I did.”

On the women’s front, Palmdale, California’s Le’Toi Adams, a former member of the armed forces, started playing wheelchair basketball in 2016.

“I am paralyzed due to cancer,” said Adams. “I had non-Hodgkins Lymphoma on my spine and it paralyzed me. I was told I wouldn’t be able to do anything activity-wise, so when I found adaptive sports, I took that extra step and decided to learn to play wheelchair basketball.”

Adams is in her late 30’s and said she is returning to school to complete her degree. Once Adams found out about joining the wheelchair basketball program, she played her part as the bringer of energy and motivation to uplift her team.

“Understanding and knowing how to play wheelchair basketball is what I’m trying to do out here,” she said. “I know that basketball is a team sport, so I might not be a great shooter or know the game of basketball the way some of these young kids do, but my goal on the court is to bring energy, be motivated and uplift my team.”

Wheelchair basketball has always been for disabled individuals who are no longer able to play able-bodied sports. Recently, though, the collegiate teams of the nation have given clearance for able-bodied individuals to participate in wheelchair basketball.

“I think able-bodied people could participate in it because it’s really like any other sport. There’s competitiveness, there’s physicality, there’s conditioning and a lot of other things that go into playing. You have to have the discipline, the drive and the determination to play it,” said Meyer. “It helps bridge the gap between people thinking disabled people aren’t able to do much or that they need a lot of help whereas they come out and watch a tournament and they see us flying around the court.”

Even so, there are still misconceptions in the general public surrounding wheelchair basketball. Some people confuse wheelchair basketball and the Paralympics, which deal with people with physical disabilities, with the Special Olympics, which involves people with cognitive disabilities, per Meyer. Meyer said that there is a misconception surrounding the level of competitiveness and intensity in wheelchair basketball, saying that some think that wheelchair basketball is a “for-fun sport” done for participation.

“I don’t think people realize how serious and competitive it is,” said Meyer. “These dudes are working out and scrimmaging five days a week and putting up 300 shots a week. All of that work goes into it and people don’t really see that.”

“Wheelchair basketball is a fun sport to watch. It’s very contact-oriented,” said Adams addressing the same issue. “It brought my attention when I could hit someone with my chair the right way and not be called a foul. If anyone has the opportunity, I would say to check out some wheelchair basketball, because it’s not what you think.”

The men’s and women’s teams hosted a tournament on Nov. 19 and 20 in the fieldhouse at the Williams Center. Both the men and women played Illinois, Alabama and Arizona; the men’s team also played Edinboro (PA) and the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

Like other sports, wheelchair basketball isn’t just about the game itself. Rather, the players learn things about themselves, their teammates, their coaches, the game and more. The game teaches morals and values that can be carried into the world, just like other sports.

“Wheelchair basketball gave me the ability to be an athlete. It’s my craft, it’s my passion,” said Meyer. “I’ve played it ever since I’ve been disabled. Once I’m to the point where I can’t play anymore, it’s going to be tough to figure out how to fill that void.”

“Wheelchair basketball took me out of a dark place and it put me in a place where other people are doing the same thing I’m doing: enjoying life and competing,” said Adams. “I plan to continue to be in this community whether I’m a coach, an advisor, or an inspiration to somebody. I like the basketball community that I have.”

The men’s and women’s teams take a break from competition during the holidays, but will be back in action in Omaha, Nebraska on Jan. 14 and 15. They have three more tournaments following that one, with the national tournament to cap off the season in March.