UConn introduces adaptive sports program


Students in the adaptive sports program enjoy a game of basketball. (Courtesy/Antonio Salazar)

The University of Connecticut became a pioneer in the world of adapted sports by bringing a wheelchair basketball program to campus this fall.

Mike Willie, a former graduate student at UConn, approached the university about creating a student organization and in the spring of 2017, Husky Adapted was created.

Willie’s goal for the organization was not only to start an adaptive sports program, but also to promote diversity and inclusiveness on campus for students with disabilities.

Assisting Willie in the process is Ryan Martin, Connecticut resident and former professional wheelchair basketball player.

At UConn, Martin is looking to set the standard and create a plan for other schools to have adapted sports programs.

“The UConn model would be there to show other universities how to go about creating an action plan. This would include tasks like how to assess the population, how to build stakeholders internally and externally, as well as creating a viable business model,” Martin said. “We are hoping that by creating this plan and showing how it can be done, that it will allow for other universities to have a more optimistic view that the creation of programs like this can be done going forward.”

Currently, Martin runs the Ryan Martin Foundation (RMF), an organization dedicated to preparing athletes with disabilities to succeed in life on and off the court.

Aligning with a university to help bring an adapted sports program to a university in the Northeast was a long term goal of the RMF.

The partnership that Martin and his foundation have with UConn men’s basketball head coach Kevin Ollie made the school a no brainer.

“UConn is a university is that is a prestigious Division I school that has never had an adapted sports program,” Martin said. “We now know how many individuals with disabilities are attending UConn and thanks to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC), we have been provided the funding to allow us to bring the proper equipment to campus starting this fall. This funding was made possible by a grant from the Craig H. Neilson Foundation.”

Across the country, there are examples of adapted sports success stories. The University of Illinois, the University of Alabama, the University of Arizona and the reigning National Champion  University of Texas-Arlington, all have successful programs, each with their own models.

However, Martin is thrilled to be bringing this new opportunity to the region, especially because it will provide a chance for junior athletes in his program. The program at UConn would allow athletes from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania, along with Connecticut, to attend a university in their geographic region and to compete at the collegiate level.

“One of the reasons that UConn is so supportive is that they have a population on their campus currently that can help jump start the program,” Martin said.

In order to gauge the interest an informational meeting was held in the spring of 2017.

“We had a good turnout for the meeting and I think throughout the fall, interest will continue to grow as people become more aware and more chairs are being brought to campus,” Center for Students with Disabilities disabilities specialist Katie Hudd said. “We will then host a few different events with UConn Athletics in the fall.  We hope that within a short period of time we can flesh out the population and then we can look and see how long it would take us to become competitive.”

The Ryan Martin Foundation will be partnering with the Center for Students with Disabilities as they celebrate their 50th anniversary as a way to publicize Husky Adapted.

One of the reasons that UConn is so supportive is that they have a population on their campus currently that can help jump start the program.
— Ryan Martin

Once Martin and Willie approached the university, they immediately received support from the administration. After several meetings, Willie was able to secure practice time and storage facilities for Husky Adapted this fall.

“UConn is often mentioned by outside groups as an example of a university that values inclusiveness and works to ensure that students with disabilities have the same access to programs, opportunities and activities as all other students,” said UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz. “The wheelchair basketball initiative fits perfectly with that philosophy, and we’re so proud to have students at UConn who put their time and energy into these kinds of great activities.”

Diversity is often solely related to race or religion, but it is much more than that. Physical and mental disabilities are often overlooked when speaking about inclusiveness.

“I think every university looks to have diversity on their campus and within their student body and I think this is just another program that helps create that,” Martin said.

For students with disabilities and students without disabilities who want to get involved in Husky Adapted please email Mike Willie (michael.willie@uconn.edu).

Antonio Salazar is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at antonio.salazar@uconn.edu.

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