Building a Wheelchair Basketball Program from Scratch

Wheelchair Basketball Quinte provides an opportunity for individuals of all physical abilities and exceptionalities to participate in the game of basketball. Our program is located at the Quinte West Branch of the YMCA of Central East Ontario and runs every Tuesday night (from September to June) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The idea to create a wheelchair basketball program in the Quinte area started when I was an undergraduate student at Queen's University. I became involved in a program called "Revved Up" which provided opportunities for people with physical and cognitive exceptionalities to engage in physical exercise. The adaptive workout equipment caught my eye immediately, and I began to search for ways in which I could become more involved. This led to an interest in wheelchair basketball and my eventual entry into an Occupational Therapy master's program.

A wheelchair basketball player lining up a shot

During my master's program, I became involved in an adaptive sports program, gaining exposure to various adaptive sports and meeting numerous athletes. I witnessed the tremendous impact of sports on the athletes I met, and I wanted to bring that same opportunity of sport to my hometown. Following graduation, I moved back to the Quinte area and decided to create a wheelchair basketball program.

Some of the best athletes I know use a wheelchair for everyday mobility and for sport. Getting to know those athletes and their stories of perseverance & overcoming adversity is why I wanted to start this program.

I'm often asked where this passion came from. My experiences in post-secondary education definitely set my path and focused my passion, but it all began from a unique exposure to adaptive sports as a child. I used to spend my summers with my grandparents at Lake St. Peter, just north of Bancroft, Ontario. We loved to be on the water, whether paddling or on a sea-doo. My grandfather had a below-the-knee amputation, but that did not stop him from participating in the sports he loved. Rather, he decided to adapt, and he ended up getting a waterproof prosthetic so he could continue playing in the water. It was normal for me to watch Grandpa switch his prosthetics at the lake, and I would often help him. My grandfather, Hugh Kerr, passed away when I was 13 years old, but his "never give up" spirit and sense of humour has left a lasting impact on me.

Costumed wheelchair basketball players

Our Wheelchair Basketball Quinte program has been growing for the past six years. We recently made changes to our program in order to really build a competitive team. We now play from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. every Tuesday night from September to June. We have split the times to provide two different opportunities. For the first hour, we have our "Intro to Wheelchair Basketball" program (available for people aged 9 and older), where we do a few skills & drills exercises, and then play a smaller half-court game. For the second hour, we open up the full court and play a fast-paced competitive game (available for people aged 12 and older).

In addition to our regular Tuesday night games, Wheelchair Basketball Quinte has been invited into elementary and secondary schools across the community to conduct wheelchair basketball workshops, introducing the game to our local youth. Some of our most committed members during our regular program are youths who first learned about the sport in their school. We also have had the pleasure of collaborating with the Ontario Para Network (formerly known as Ontario Wheelchair Sports Association) for a few events. Once a year, we hold our annual 3-vs-3 wheelchair basketball tournament, where members within our program and within the general community put teams together to compete. Following our last tournament, a few members of our Wheelchair Basketball Quinte program decided that they want to compete at a higher level. That means we will have our first travelling competitive wheelchair basketball team from the Quinte region next season.

Last but definitely not least, I need to express my gratitude to Sunrise Medical and Motion (formerly Motion Specialties). Sunrise Medical and Motion are the reason why this program has become what it is today. When we first started back in 2013, we were using fairly old equipment. Since then, Sunrise Medical has donated nine beautiful brand new QUICKIE® All Court sport wheelchairs to our program, and even giving us the opportunity to modify a few of them. This equipment no doubt has led to some pretty incredible fast-paced basketball games and some very happy athletes, who feel they are able to play to the best of their ability with equipment that responds to their playing needs. Motion has been there for us since the beginning stages by providing us with equipment and always being readily available for any repairs or general maintenance that we might need for the wheelchairs. The support from these two companies often leaves me speechless. Thank you to Sunrise Medical and Motion for believing in our program and for giving our athletes the opportunity to play a game that they love.

I'm often asked, "Do you need to use a wheelchair regularly in order to play in your program?" The answer is no; all abilities are welcome. One of the best parts of our program is that a person who does require a wheelchair for everyday use, will come and often bring a few of their buddies. Not only does our Tuesday night program provide an opportunity for physical exercise, but it is also a great social experience for everyone. Our family-like atmosphere is something we take pride in, and we often call each other our "b-ball fam". If you join us on Tuesdays, you will be welcomed into our b-ball fam with open arms. We are an inclusive community, striving to provide the best experience for each of our athletes.

Wheelchair basketball players

If you are interested in starting an adaptive sports program in your community, my biggest piece of advice is to start networking. The reason why this program developed is because of the connections that were made. Don't hesitate to attend adaptive sports events, make phone calls to those who can provide advice, or reach out to local organizations. You never know who you might meet.

When I moved back to my hometown after grad school, I heard of an adaptive sports fair that was taking place three hours away. I decided to go, but 30 minutes into the drive, my car broke down. My family was telling me that perhaps I should just stay home that day because of my car troubles, but instead I asked my mother to kindly switch cars with me. I made it to the event and met Don Lane, who was involved with the Canadian Wheelchair Sports Association. I told him my idea of creating a wheelchair basketball program, and he connected me with the Carlton Wheelchair Sports Association, who donated our very first wheelchairs to the program. We still use those wheelchairs today. We were able to have our first game because of this donation and because of these newly forged relationships.

Never give up on your dream. Expect obstacles and hurdles, but keep pushing through them. Perserverance is key. Keep networking and making connections. Never forget why you started your initiative in the first place. Always remember your "why."

For more information, follow us or contact us on social media:
Facebook: Wheelchair Basketball Quinte
Instagram: @Wheelchair_Bball_Quinte
Twitter: @WC_Bball_Quinte

About the Author

Katherine Kerr-Pankow

Katherine Kerr-Pankow is a school-based Occupational Therapist for Quinte & District Rehabilitation Inc., working in seven schools in the Bay of Quinte region in southeastern Ontario. Katherine began her passion project of creating a wheelchair basketball program when she returned home from completing her Master of Occupational Therapy degree in 2013. She began collecting wheelchairs and networking in her community, and eventually partnered with the YMCA of Central East Ontario in 2014. Katherine is also the co-founder of Quinte Adapt, which is a central resource for individuals and families to learn more about adaptive and inclusive programming available in the Quinte region. She is also a member of the Field of Ability committee, a group working toward creating a fully accessible, barrier-free baseball field for Quinte and the surrounding area.

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Date: 8/20/2019 12:00:00 AM

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