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Results of Starting a Club Collegiate Wheelchair Basketball Team

by Karys McKulsky, Mallory Rodriguez & Trevor Quenneville

There are currently 12 colleges or universities in the United States that have wheelchair basketball teams (National Wheelchair Basketball Association, 2008). Unfortunately, Michigan has none.  According to Mike Frogley, head coach of the University of Illinois men's and women's wheelchair basketball teams, each year approximately five disabled individuals from Michigan attend college out of state to play wheelchair basketball at the collegiate level (personal communication, June 9, 2009). Furthermore, there might be other individuals with disabilities residing in the state of Michigan who would participate in wheelchair basketball if there was a team in closer proximity.   

Data is needed for Michigan universities to evaluate the resources needed and benefits of having wheelchair basketball programs.  A survey of founders and coordinators of collegiate wheelchair basketball programs would provide information on specifics of starting and maintaining wheelchair basketball programs. Furthermore, colleges and universities across the county that are interested in starting their own wheelchair basketball teams and those with previously established wheelchair basketball teams may benefit from the survey results, as they could use information obtained from this study to enhance existing programs or start new programs.

The purpose of this survey research study was to learn more about the resources required to develop and maintain wheelchair basketball teams at the college or university level, as well as the benefits associated with having wheelchair basketball teams on campus.  The results of the study provided information regarding specific issues colleges and universities must address when forming and maintaining wheelchair basketball teams, including issues related to financial support, supplies, and obtaining/managing team-related resources. The survey results also provided information regarding the benefits of collegiate wheelchair basketball teams, as perceived by team founders, directors and coordinators.

This study utilized a mixed methods descriptive survey approach, involving collection of both quantitative and qualitative data.  A survey was mailed to founders, directors, and/or coordinators of collegiate wheelchair basketball programs.  Information was obtained in regards to how respondents addressed specific factors associated with starting and maintaining wheelchair basketball teams, as well as their perceived benefits of having these teams on campus. Closed-ended questions were used to gather information regarding player/student demographics and issues in the area of team management (including player recruitment, playing schedules, equipment procurement and management, and funding concerns).  Closed and open-ended questions were utilized to obtain information regarding the perceived benefits that college/university-based wheelchair basketball teams bring to team members, the institution and the student body as a whole. 

Of the fifteen surveys mailed, six surveys were returned, for a response rate of 40%.   Of the six surveys returned, five (33%) met survey requirements of coming from a founder, director, and/or coaches of a wheelchair basketball team.  The results of survey are as follows.

Quantitative Results

Please refer to the quantitative response data sheet to review the entire quantitative portion of the survey with a layout of the response percentages for each question. 

Qualitative Results

Within the qualitative portion of the survey, respondents were asked for their opinions and thoughts related to the benefits of having a wheelchair basketball team at their college or university, as well as barriers faced and adaptations made. The respondents showed a great deal of agreement in their responses to these open ended questions.

Obstacles. Participants were asked to identify three major hurdles that their colleges or universities faced in starting a wheelchair basketball team.  Among the five responses, one stated that he/she was not at the institution when the program was started. However, among the other four participants there was an overwhelming consensus that funding was one of the major obstacles faced while trying to start the team. Half (2) of the participants made note of difficulties with accessibility and obtaining the facilities necessary to participate in wheelchair sports, which was termed facility-accessibility issues by the researchers. Other obstacles identified as issues during the program development stages included difficulty finding athletes, and obtaining equipment.

As a follow-up to the previous question, participants were asked to describe how they addressed or overcame hurdles faced when starting their wheelchair basketball teams. The two major themes identified within the responses included receiving funding and school support, which were each stated in half (2) of the responses. Fundraisers, grants, endowments and donations were all stated by the respondents as a means utilized to address their financial barriers in the receiving funding theme.

The students and the administration were each identified by the respondents as helpful within the schoolsupport category. Hosting exhibition games against able bodied teams was utilized by one institution as a method to change some of the non-supportive attitudes held by some of the university community. Furthermore, academic assistance was utilized by one institution to help students that had trouble adjusting to the schooling aspect of being a student athlete.

Benefits. Participants were also asked to describe three benefits associated with having a wheelchair basketball team at their college/university. After reviewing the results, there was a consensus by four of the five respondents (80%) that the program impacted university status. Ideas expressed in this theme included university promotion, national and international recognition for having a wheelchair basketball program, being a social leader, and an increased reputation of having an institution that supports students with disabilities.

Themes also emerged in the areas of awareness and student benefits, which were each identified by two of five participants (40%)The awareness benefits focused on students and individuals gaining a better understanding of people with disabilities, including valuing what they can do, rather than focusing on their limitations. Student success and holistic educational experiences for the students with disabilities wererecognized in the student benefits theme. Lastly, student body development and on/off court recognition of athletes were also expressed by the respondents as benefits of having a wheelchair basketball team.

Adaptations. The last qualitative question addressed significant adaptations which needed to be made to make the recreational facilities accessible and appropriate for use by the wheelchair basketball teams. There were three areas of adaptations that were highlighted by at least two of five (40%) participants. These three main areas of adaptations included the necessity of adding ramps, doors, and locker rooms to improve the accessibility of the sporting facility. Other key factors related to creating accessible environments included obtaining chartered lift buses, more storage space, and sufficient workout space and adequate heights for accessibility of fountains and check-in desks used by athletes in a wheelchair.  

Interpretation of Results

The survey identified hurdles that universities had to overcome when starting a wheelchair basketball team. The two main themes in this section included funding and facility-accessibility issues.  Significant adaptations made to recreational facilities for accessibility included wider doors, ramps, changing rooms, and lifts for buses.  Institutions stated that these hurdles where addressed through fundraising, Veterans Administration (VA) funding, administrative and student body support.

Benefits of having a wheelchair basketball team at the college/university were identified in the survey results.  These included enhancing the experience of student athletes with a disability, overall development of the student body, and setting the campus or university apart as a social leader with national recognition for students with disabilities.  Overall, respondents agreed that starting a wheelchair basketball team was "great idea, and has improved the wellness of many athletes with disabilities at the university."

Future Research Direction

The survey results can be used in future research to help give information for those wanting to form a wheelchair basketball team at their college or university. The results give specific information on adaptations, cost, and benefits.  Future research could target more specifically as to where the adaptations would need to be made.  In particular, research could look at where the costs of having a wheelchair basketball team are allocated.  Another future research direction could be to obtain the student wheelchair basketball player's perspective.  Information from these responses could be used to analyze the impact on the disabled student athlete and their quality of life.


We would like to acknowledge Ellen Herlache for her time and effort on making this survey possible. We would also like to thank Jeff Coupie for his assistance and knowledge on the topic of adaptive wheelchair sports. Furthermore, we would like to acknowledge the colleges and universities that participated in the survey study. 


Likert Scale Survey Results

Quantitative Response Data






We had a lot of help from the campus community and students in forming our wheelchair basketball team.

0   (0%)









Wheelchair basketball is a hard program to fund.


1 (20%)

1 (20%)

0  (0%)

1   (20%)

2  (40%)

Students with disabilities who participate in wheelchair basketball seem more outgoing than students with disabilities who do not participate in wheelchair basketball.


0   (0%)

1 (20%)

0  (0%)

0     (0%)

4  (80%)

It is hard getting students with disabilities to participate in wheelchair basketball.


1 (20%)

3 (60%)

0  (0%)

0     (0%)

1  (20%)











Note: SD = Strongly Disagree, D = Disagree, NA = Neither Agree or Disagree, A = Agree, SA = Strongly Agree

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