By Dan Humphreys, MS, CDSS – NWBA Director of Sport and High Performance
Can’t Play Standing Up? Come Sit Down!
In the beginning you had to have a spinal cord injury in order to play wheelchair basketball. But that, much like the game itself, has come a long way since 1946. Today, in order to be eligible to play wheelchair basketball within the NWBA a person must have a permanent lower extremity disability that precludes then from playing competitive stand up basketball. In addition to spinal cord injury (SCI), many types of disabilities qualify a person to play wheelchair basketball. Spina bifida, cerebral palsy, post polio syndrome, lower extremity amputation, leg length discrepancy, and permanent joint disorders are just a few of the disabilities that would qualify a person to play wheelchair basketball.
One of the misconceptions of wheelchair basketball is that you must use a chair for everyday mobility in order to play the sport. In fact, many wheelchair basketball athletes get up out of their chair at the end of a game or practice and walk around for the rest of the day. This could be a person with an amputation that utilizes a prosthetic or a person with an incomplete spinal cord injury or a person with cerebral palsy that is ambulatory.
Many people who play in the NWBA qualify under Minimum Disability. These people may not have a disability that is noticeable to the eye but have been determined by a medical professional to have a permanent disability that precludes them from playing competitive stand up basketball. A person who has undergone reconstructive knee surgery may fall into this category.
Everyone Wants a New Set of Wheels
In order to start playing wheelchair basketball there is only one piece of equipment that is needed that is different from playing stand up basketball – a wheelchair! If you are an everyday wheelchair user you can start playing in your everyday chair in order to get a feel for the game. But once you decide wheelchair basketball is a game for you it is time to look into getting a sport chair.
A sport chair can be made specific to wheelchair basketball but it can also be made to allow you to play numerous sports such as tennis, softball and football. A typical sport chair will have dimensions slightly different from an everyday chair because it is designed to maximize your athletic ability, not to keep you comfortable and healthy through 8-10 hours of constant sitting. Generally, the chair will be lighter, it will not have breaks, the wheels will have greater camber (angle) to facilitate a tight turning radius and it will feel like you just got into your own sports car!
A typical sport chair will cost from $2,000 – $3,500 depending on the options that you want. Chairs can be ordered with either a rigid frame- for seasoned athletes that know exactly what they want, or an adjustable frame – for newer athletes that need to find their ideal chair set up or younger athletes that need some flexibility to grow into the chair.
There are a number of manufacturers that make high quality sport chairs: Top End, Per4Max, Eagle Sportchairs, Quickie, and Colours to name a few. Each of these manufacturers can direct you to representatives that can assist in taking measurements in order to help you get into the right chair.
Investing thousands of dollars in equipment for a new sport is not something many people can do. Most programs that offer wheelchair basketball have program chairs that can be used throughout the season by athletes in the program. Many people play in a program chair for years before they invest in their own chair.
How High is the Basket?
There are actually very few rule differences between stand up and wheelchair basketball. The basket is ten feet high, a regulation ball is used, and the free-throw line in fifteen feet. The NWBA rules are based on the NCAA rules with the following differences:
- you must dribble once for every two pushes in order to avoid a traveling violation;
- there is no double dribble violation in wheelchair basketball;
- the front casters of the shooter’s chair may be over the free-throw and three-point lines during a shot, the rear wheels must remain behind the lines until the ball is released;
- and there is still a 3-second lane violation, however, if a person is trapped in the lane and continues to try to exit the lane a three second violation will not be called
There are additional variances within the various NWBA Divisions:
- The Women’s Division utilizes a women’s ball.
- The Junior Prep Divisionutilizes a Spalding Rookie ball that is smaller and lighter than a women’s ball;
- plays with an 8’-6” high basket;
- uses a 13’ free-throw line;
- and plays four, eight minute quarters.
Will I Be Able to Play Against People My Own Age?
The NWBA offers five divisions of play: Championship, Women’s, Division III, Collegiate, and Junior. There are two leagues within the Junior Division, Varsity and Prep.
The Championship Division is the highest level of play within the NWBA. Both men and women can play within this division and many of our Paralympians compete within this division.
The Women’s Division offers the opportunity for women to compete against one another. There is no age restriction on this division so it is open to all females and anyone on a Women’s Division team is also eligible to compete on either a Championship or Division III team.
Division III was founded as a recreational division to allow newly injured athletes the opportunity to experience wheelchair basketball and develop their skills in a slightly less competitive environment than the Championship Division. Anyone is eligible to be a member of a Division III team.
The College Division of the NWBA is one of the most unique opportunities within adapted sport. The teams within this division are part of their university and the athletes are all full-time students. Depending on the university, scholarships are available to play wheelchair basketball. Currently, the following institutions offer wheelchair basketball within the NWBA Collegiate Division:
- University of Illinois Champaign Urbana – Men and Women
- University of Alabama – Men and Women
- University of Wisconsin-Whitewater – Men and Women
- University of Texas-Arlington – Men and Women
- University of Missouri – Men
- Edinboro University – Men
- Southwest Minnesota State University – Men
- Auburn University – Men
The Junior Division is comprised of two leagues, Varsity and Prep. These are differentiated by age requirements. In order to be eligible for the Prep League an athlete must be 13 or under at the start of the season. The Junior Division is open to both boys and girls and athletes in the Junior Division are eligible to participate on an adult team as well. Athletes on a Prep team may also play on a Varsity team.
Giving Back to Those Who Served
In addition to these Divisions, the NWBA has numerous programs for veterans funded through a generous grant from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs and various sponsors. These programs include development camps, clinics, coaches’ education, training and certification and regional and national competitions.
When Can I Play?
The NWBA season starts October 1 and ends in early April. Many teams play between 20 and 30 games during the season that culminates in the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament (NWBT) where the top teams in each division come to one location in order to compete for their national championship. The NWBT typically hosts approximately 90 teams and awards five national championships.
How Do I Get Started?
The NWBA has over 210 teams in 38 states across the country. Information on local programs and a calendar of events can be found on the NWBA website at www.NWBA.org. For more information, contact Dan Humphreys at firstname.lastname@example.org.