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Wheelchair Basketball is a Top Sport of Disabled Athletes

Posted on March 24th, 2016

As March Madness comes to the end of another season, the sport of basketball is still in full swing for the amazing athletes competing in wheelchair basketball at the 2016 Paralympic Games. Designed for athletes who have a physical impairment that prevents running, jumping and pivoting, wheelchair basketball is one of 23 Paralympic sports being played in the Games in Brazil this September.

Today, there are more than 21 million Americans with a physical disability, according to U.S. Paralympics. Wheelchair basketball is played by both male and female athletes with physical limitations such as spinal cord injuries, limb loss, cerebral palsy, brain injury or stroke and other orthopedic and locomotor disabilities. It is now one of the most established Paralympic sports and is played competitively by more than 25,000 people in 80 different countries.

The International Wheelchair Basketball Federation (IWBF) is the world governing body for wheelchair basketball. It is recognized by the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) as the sole competent authority in wheelchair basketball worldwide.

History of the Sport
It all started in the mid 1940s, when Sir Ludwig Guttman developed wheelchair netball at the Spinal Rehabilitation Hospital in England. Around the same time, disabled World War II veterans being treated for varying degrees of paralysis at Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals in Birmingham, CA, and Framingham, MA, as well as at the Corona Naval Station, CA, started playing wheelchair basketball as well. In 1948, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association was created and the first official tournament was organized. Wheelchair basketball soon became the number one sport of individuals with disabilities.  

Women with mobility limitations started playing in the mid-1960's, first as members of the men's teams and then on the first all-women's team in 1970 called the University of Illinois Ms. Kids. They competed against the Southern Illinois University Squidettes in 1973 in the first recorded wheelchair basketball game between two organized women's teams in the US. In 1977, the women's division expanded to six teams. There are now 82 National Organizations for Wheelchair Basketball within the IWBF throughout the world. It is estimated that more than 100,000 physically challenged people play wheelchair basketball across all levels.

The Rules
Wheelchair basketball uses the same size court with the same 10-foot hoop as standard basketball. Teams are made up of five players. Most of the rules are the same, with the exception being those that have been altered to account for the wheelchair. For example, a player can't touch their wheels more than twice after receiving or dribbling the ball or it's considered traveling. The player must then pass, bounce or shoot before touching the wheels again. Wheelchairs can have three or four wheels but no steering devices, brakes or gears.

Athletes are rated on their ability to play the game and then given a functional classification score from 1 (lowest ability) to 4.5 (highest ability). A team can play with a maximum of 14 points among the five players, in order to equalize the teams. This was a change from the previous classification system which scored based on medical disability. This classification system continues to be discussed and revised as needed to ensure fairness to all the athletes.

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