The National Wheelchair Basketball Association recently held its annual tournament in Louisville, Kentucky, where more than 85 teams and 1,200 athletes competed. Teams from San Diego to New York traveled to the Kentucky Expo Center to compete within their divisions in bracket-style elimination on more than 10 basketball courts. The games began on Thursday, April 3rd and concluded on Sunday, April 6th.

Wheelchair basketball began in the 1940s, which makes the NWBA the oldest and largest Disabled Sports Organization in the U.S. After World War II veterans returned home, many were paralyzed for the rest of their lives. Wheelchair basketball caught on as these veterans continued to pursue the sports they had enjoyed and readjust to civilian life. By 1970, a division for women was created, and the tournament is today a highly-competitive event featuring athletes of many ages. The NWBA is comprised of over 200 basketball teams across 22 conferences and seven divisions and has affiliations with the National Basketball Association (NBA), United States Olympic Committee (USOC), Paralympics, USA Basketball, the VA and Wounded Warriors. The league follows many NCAA basketball regulations with regard to play metrics, and athletes are classified according to age and ability to ensure balance on the court. Classification of players requires a clinical background to determine the level at which each individual can compete.

RehabCare is proud to call the NWBA’s Head of Classification one of our own. Occupational Therapist Jayne Chilutti, Program Director at Deer Meadows in Philadelphia, has been involved with wheelchair basketball since the 1980s. Jayne became an international classifier in 2007 and in 2012 attended the London Paralympics to evaluate athletes. She uses her skills as an OT to measure athletes’ functional abilities such as cervical rotation and hip flexion. Jayne’s passion for the game is evident, and discussing the impact wheelchair basketball has on young athletes reveals her enthusiasm.

“The opportunity to play wheelchair basketball provides more than an athletic and competitive outlet,” Jayne says. "Many of the students begin with us as young as five years old. Through their participation, these kids develop essential skills, including responsibility. They have to learn to think ahead of time and plan accommodations when they attend camps or the national tournament."

For some, wheelchair basketball paves the way for education as well. RehabCare had the opportunity to speak with distinguished NCAA coaches and players who shared their experiences with wheelchair basketball at the collegiate level. Jim Douthitt, Senior Vice President of Skilled Nursing Services for RehabCare, met Ron Lynkins, Head Coach of the University of Missouri Men’s Wheelchair Basketball team. Before becoming head coach at Mizzou, Ron coached the U.S. Women’s team at the 2000 Paralympics games where they came in fifth place and then won the gold medal at the 2004 and 2008 games. “I am very humbled to have these opportunities,” Ron told Jim.

Jim also met Stephanie Wheeler, Coach of the Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team at the University of Illinois. During her undergraduate years, Stephanie played for the Illinois wheelchair basketball team when they were three-time national champions. She began coaching the Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team after graduation and won two gold medals in 2004 and 2008 in the national Paralympics games under Ron Lynkins. “Playing sports has shown me the creation of the dream. This sport can provide younger athletes with a great education, life skills and opportunities to play internationally. It gives them the opportunity to know what is available to them,” Stephanie shared.

Thank you to our RehabCare volunteers from all over Kentucky who attended last week's tournament in a show of support. We look forward to continuing to sponsor this great organization.

For the full album of the 2014 tournament, visit our Facebook album here.

By Margaret Schmidt