PT, OT students team up for No Dunking Allowed fundraiser
At a basketball tournament, there are sounds you expect to hear. The bouncing basketballs. The referee’s whistle. The echoes of players’ voices engaged in a thrilling game. The skid of wheels on the court.
These are the sounds of a wheelchair basketball game.
At No Dunking Allowed 2022, held on April 9 at the Bast Center on Roanoke College’s campus, 18 teams of players of all abilities competed in a 3-on-3 wheelchair basketball tournament to raise funds for nonprofit groups Wheel Love, a local support group focused on adaptive sports, and the Roanoke Stars Wheelchair Basketball team, an organization dedicated to self-advocacy as a means to change the way non-disabled people view people with disabilities. The fundraiser was organized by student organizations from Radford University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), Occupational Therapy Assistant (O.T.A), and Master of Occupational Therapy (M.O.T.) programs.
“Some of the students in our Student Occupational Therapy Association, or SOTA, had heard about Wheel Love and reached out to me to ask if I could help them get in touch with someone who could be a guest speaker,” said Sarah Garrison, M.O.T., OTR/L, an instructor in the occupational therapy department and SOTA faculty advisor. “I reached out to Danny because I was aware that he’s been working with Wheel Love for years.”
The “Danny” that Garrison reached out to was Daniel Miner, PT, DPT, NCS, an assistant professor in the DPT program. Miner thought his students would also be excited about the opportunity to support the organization and suggested that the students work in collaboration. A partnership was born.
“Once we had that many students involved,” Garrison recalled, “it seemed a natural choice to explore ways that we could support the organization with some sort of in-service volunteer effort.”
As the students began planning, they invited others to voice their thoughts on what kind of service or event they could host. Among those voices was Jacob Tyree, a local adaptive sports advocate and wheelchair athlete who works with Move United. Tyree, who is also a member of Wheel Love, had founded Roanoke Stars and suggested that it might be fun to incorporate some friendly play.
“There is something about sports and recreational activities that brings people together in a way that’s different than other interactions,” Miner said. “Sports allow people to strive to do their best while cheering on and supporting others.”
Tyree had already been talking with Roanoke College representatives from Toys Like Me — a coalition of students, student groups, faculty and staff working to modify toys to reflect disabilities and medical issues experienced by children — about hosting a wheelchair basketball event. Prior to the COVID pandemic, Tyree had been a part of a similar event, and the Roanoke College group was interested in seeing it return.
“At that point,” Garrison said, “it just made sense to pool all of our energies and go big with a collective event.”
The tournament began to grow with an ever-expanding roster of teams and partners. The Charlottesville Cardinals Wheelchair Basketball Team and a team from Carilion Clinic’s Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit, which shares space with Radford University Carilion (RUC) at Carilion Roanoke Community Hospital, soon joined. Teams signed up that were composed of the students themselves and family and friends they had eagerly recruited, including youth teams made up of family members of the occupational therapy faculty and students. All of the teams gave themselves fun names like Just Roll With It, the Dunkaroos and the Overtime OTs.
With such an enthusiastic response to the tournament, the planners decided that the event could go beyond the court by offering information about other resources to those who attended. They added an informational area staffed with several community partners, including the FREE Foundation and Children’s Assistive Technology Services.
“I think that when people have a chance to explore someone else’s perspective, it’s a great way to begin to develop some empathy and awareness about ways that one size does not fit all,” Garrison said. “It’s important to note, though, that while an event like this can’t really show an able-bodied person what it is like to live with a different set of abilities, it can open the door for awareness and conversation.”
Miner added that “creating an opportunity for wheelchair users and those who don’t use wheelchairs for mobility to play together on the same court shifts the focus from any thought of disability to ability.”
“Events like this one can create a better understanding of the unique challenges that wheelchair users face — both on and off the court,” Miner said.
When the day of the tournament came, players filled the Bast Center, and play commenced, with the number of teams slowly shrinking as games came and went. By the semifinals of the tournament, one of the teams from the M.O.T./O.T.A. departments beat one of the DPT teams on a last-second buzzer-beater, but the DPT team battled out of the losers’ bracket to beat the M.O.T./O.T.A team twice to win the championship. It was an exciting finish to a full day.
Off the court, impromptu activities popped up, including wheelchair races that allowed those attending to try out a customized chair built for sports activities, whether they were playing in the tournament or just watching. People also experienced the extra challenges that users of wheeled mobility face routinely, like trying to reach a bottle filler while seated. Garrison said that raising awareness of universal design principles was a key to the event, both on the court and off, and these opportunities developed organically among the educators and the people participating.
The ultimate success of the tournament, however, may be in the positive outcomes that resulted from it. By partnering with local businesses to support the event, the M.O.T., O.T.A and DPT students, along with Roanoke College Toy’s Like Me club, raised over $1,000 to support Wheel Love and the Roanoke Stars.
“The organizations intend to put the money raised towards a purchasing athletic equipment such as wheeled sport chairs so that participants who can’t afford their own basketball wheelchair, with a starting price of around $2,500, can have access to necessary equipment,” Garrison said. “Keeping a ‘team set’ of chairs really helps folks explore what’s possible when they have access to the correct tools.”
Miner added that the tournament is also leading to further student and academic program collaborations. As a result of the tournament and the positive experience of planning it, the occupational therapy and physical therapy students have initiated planning for future interdisciplinary student-driven opportunities.
Finally, Garrison said that some local families in attendance shared that this event had introduced them to adaptive sport. They said that it made them aware of athletic opportunities for their families that they didn’t previously know about.
“Sports and playing in general can be such a great equalizer, reminding us of what we have in common,” Garrison said. “Once we have relationships through play, I think it becomes much clearer how we can adapt playing fields, even if it’s as simple as designing access to features so that everyone can easily get a drink of water before they sub back in the game.”