A Brief History of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association - 1973 to Present

By Labanowich, Stan | Palaestra, Summer 1996 | Go to article overview
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A Brief History of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association - 1973 to Present


Labanowich, Stan, Palaestra


The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) began its 26th season in the fall of 1973 with 91 teams as members, distributed among 15 conferences. A new Commissioner, Stan Labanowich, was in office having succeeded the retiring founder and Commissioner, Tim Nugent, for the remaining two years of his last 5-year term.

The NWBA faced two impending crises. there was no site for the 26th national tournament as late as November 1; and the federal government, in dealing with the energy crisis that gripped the country, caused the closing of gas stations on Sundays. The first crisis was averted with the willingness of the University of Illinois to host the tournament on the condition that the competing teams would cover their own expenses for rooms and meals. The second crisis was dealt with by a policy developed by the NWBA Executive Committee which hinged on driving distance by car - under 250 miles, a team could not cancel a Saturday night or Sunday game without a forfeiture. To prevent that circumstance, teams were encouraged to reschedule games to Fridays and early Saturdays which would avoid the need for travel on Sundays (NWBA Newsletter, 1973). The policy was necessary because wheelchair basketball teams could not easily resort to commercial travel - bus, train, air - to escape the necessity of driving long distances on a day without access to refilling their gas tanks. As it was, the crisis was averted and there was no need to impose any penalties or award any forfeitures.

The decision to hold the 26th NWBT at the University of Illinois meant that the men's championship would be held in the region of Champaign-Urbana for the sixth consecutive year and the fourteenth in the previous 26. While it reinforced the already strong identification of the sport with Champaign and the University, the years ahead would see the ties loosened and the locus of control moved to the University of Kentucky in Lexington where the office of the Commissioner was established in 1975. Illinois would continue to exert considerable influence in the development of the sport but mainly in the development of women's and men's intercollegiate programs.

In the annual meeting which was conducted in conjunction with the 26th NWBT, approval was given to two major proposals to amend playing rules which would affect the make-up of teams and the character of the game on the court. The rule governing player points was amended to reduce the total on the court at one time from 13 to 12 (NWBA Newsletter, 1974). This had the effect of forcing teams to play at least one class I and one class II player if they chose to play 3 class III players at the same time (the maximum number). Otherwise, they could play any combination of the three classes. The proposal was in keeping with the growing realization that teams had been ignoring the mandate to encourage more individuals with severe disabilities to participate and that the rule change would resolve the problem.

The second of the major proposals dealt with the integration of women into the sport. Although there were women's teams being formed at the University of Illinois, at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and in Detroit, Michigan, it was recognized that many women with disabilities living in areas where there were men's teams only did not have an opportunity to play. In an era when Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act was beginning to exert a heavy influence on the widespread prohibition of discrimination based on sex, the NWBA prudently decreed that women could play on men's teams. This decision was the starting point for increasing participation' of women in the sport, nationally and internationally.

With successful completion of the first season of the NWBA's second quarter century, some new trends in the development of the sport could be seen. First, it was evident that business of the Association needed to be conducted according to a definitive set of rules and regulations codified and made available to all officers and teams.

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A Brief History of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association - 1973 to Present
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