Logan Gin ran for Mr. UNC back in November with one thing in mind. A sentiment so plain it almost sounds too obvious: We all can play.
It’s the kind of thing you don’t realize if you’re “able-bodied.” When you took to the field as a 7-year-old, uniform half-tucked in and laces already undone; when you cleared the hurdle, made the crucial tackle, set the record straight – that glorious scene, wherever it was, probably didn’t include students with disabilities.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, remaining physically active leads to better emotional and physical health for individuals with physical disabilities, including better self-perception and lower levels of pain and depression. If you’ve done sports, you already know this.
Wheelchair basketball, a sort of staple of adapted athletics, is already a scholarship sport at several universities including Alabama, Illinois, the University of Texas-Arlington, Missouri and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. In fact, the Alabama Board of Trustees recently approved $10 million in funding to build a world-class facility specifically for athletes competing in adapted sports.
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But North Carolina universities offer a pretty dismal alternative: nothing. Duke, UNC, and N.C. State lack both competitive and recreational adapted athletics programs. Sure, many schools, including UNC and ECU, have held wheelchair basketball exhibitions, but before now, there’s been no push for ongoing, institutionalized athletic opportunities for students with disabilities. As a result, North Carolina misses out on talented student-athletes.
The Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets programs sends more than a half-dozen players to Alabama and Texas on scholarship every year, many of whom would undoubtedly love to stay home and compete for a North Carolina university.
Locally, we have the Triangle Thunder, which recently competed in the National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament and ranks consistently in the top 10 in Division 3 rankings. Durham is home to Bridge II sports, which offers a full range of sports to accommodate multiple disabilities. North Carolina is even home to Stephanie Wheeler, coach of the Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team, and two-time gold medalist herself in the Rio 2016 Paralympic games.
North Carolina universities need to get on board. UNC-Chapel Hill in particular markets itself as a university riff with icons: the buildings themselves, some of them hundreds of years old, the Old Well, framed carefully by white oaks, azaleas and the hand of God, and – of course – sports, to the tune of 43 team national championships. Each is “characteristically Chapel Hill.” Each is engrained into the aesthetic, if not the entire student experience.
Well, these icons exclude a sizable proportion of the student body. Certain buildings at UNC-CH, including Smith on North Campus, aren’t accessible at all.
For lack of a ramp, Logan once had to leave his scooter at a bike rack in order to meet a professor in the attic of the building. The Old Well, ironically, is less accessible than the eighth floor of Davis Library. And adapted sports simply doesn’t exist – not through campus recreation, not through club sports, not at all.
Logan, in partnership with Joe Nail, whose older sister has a developmental disability, has thrown a much needed wrench into the equation.
Carolina Adapted Athletics provides consistent, competitive athletic opportunities for students with physical and developmental disabilities. It provides a space where “We all can play” is actually true – where at least one of UNC’s “icons” is accessible to every student and the rest, Logan suggests, may fall under appropriate scrutiny.
Carolina Adapted Athletics hosts its first wheelchair basketball showcase, on Sunday in Woollen Gym from 2 to 5 p.m.
UNC students can sign up using this link, and everyone is welcome to attend or follow the event @CarolinaAdapted.
BackBone NC recently conducted a photo series on Logan Gin and issues related to accessibility.
Blake Dodge of Beaufort is a philosophy and English major at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Wheelchair basketball showcase
When: 2-5 p.m. Sunday
Where: Woollen Gym, UNC-Chapel Hill