Sportable, an adaptive-sports club based in Richmond, Virginia, had a big idea for the National Wheelchair Basketball Association this past spring.
The club’s leaders and Richmond sports tourism officials successfully pitched the association put on a new event to kick off its 2017-18 season. The result: the inaugural NWBA Preseason National Invitation Tournament, presented by CarMax, Oct. 20-22.
More than 200 wheelchair basketball players from across the U.S. are expected to compete in the event.
The tournament takes place at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Siegel Center, home court for the school’s Division I NCAA basketball teams.
Securing the Siegel Center was key to getting NWBA officials on board with the idea, said Sportable Executive Director Hunter Leemon.
Leemon hopes the tournament will become a signature event that Richmond can grow, much like the NWBA’s national championship in Louisville has become a spring tradition to end the season.
“From the very beginning it has been our goal to create an elite event that year after year kicks off the National Wheelchair Basketball season in Richmond,” says J.C. Poma, sports development manager for Richmond Region Tourism. “To have 20 teams commit to this inaugural event is a testament to the hard work of Sportable and the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.”
A Brutal Sport
Leemon is excited about the event’s potential to promote the sport of wheelchair basketball, which he says is an intense display of athleticism.
“Trying to shoot a free throw without using your legs is a feat,” he says. “Competitive wheelchair basketball is brutal.”
The sport dates to the 1940s, when World War II veterans played in Veterans’ Administration hospitals in California.
Today, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association includes more than 200 teams across several divisions, with an age range from high school to adult.
Leemon says it is one of the biggest of the 13 adaptive sports Sportable makes available to athletes with disabilities.
Richmond’s Sportable Rim Riders are a Division II team competing in the NWBA, and the club also hosts teams for players as young as 5 years old.
For Leemon, putting on a first-class event that draws a high level of competition is a goal with huge potential to benefit participants.
“A lot of our organizations are small nonprofits, and a lot of our teams play in community centers that are 50 years old in neglected parts of town,” he says. “For our kids and our players to have the opportunity to play in a place like the Siegel Center is going to be life-changing.”