Roundball on Wheels
In October, Eastern hosted the first of what it hopes will become an annual wheelchair basketball event.
Since its beginnings as a form of recreation for injured veterans returning from World War II, wheelchair basketball has been among the most popular — and competitive — of sports enjoyed by people who use wheelchairs.
Eastern’s wheelchair basketball team was founded in 2020 with the support of community partners like ParaSport Spokane and the Neilsen Foundation. With head coach David Evjen leading the way, EWU’s co-ed team played its first games in 2020 and soon became sanctioned by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association — the first team to earn that distinction in the Western region. More recently, the Eagle’s program marked another milestone by hosting what Evjen hopes will become an annual wheelchair basketball tournament at EWU’s Reese Court. The event included three visiting teams, included a group from the University of Arizona along with local teams ParaSport Spokane and, the eventual champion, Team St. Luke’s.
Because wheelchair basketball games are regularly played in recreation centers, the opportunity to play the sport in a bigger arena was welcome, says Eastern’s coach Evjen. “That was a big plus for this tournament.”
Another plus involved the event’s visibility, which included news coverage from a number of regional media outlets. “I think this could help with recruitment a lot, especially with athletes from our close neighboring states, like Oregon, Idaho, and even Nevada and Utah,” Evjen says.
There were also important financial benefits, he adds. Because collegiate wheelchair basketball teams are spread out across the United States — with the teams as far away as New York and Alabama — getting in a full season of 25 or so games can strain travel budgets. To offset costs and improve competition, most programs try to host one annual tournament where teams can get in multiple games.
Evjen says a core of dedicated volunteers also helped provide logistics support, score keeping and other key functions. “It takes a lot of moving parts to be able to host a tournament like this,” he says, but all the hard work paid off. “There was a big crowd here, and we really got to show them what wheelchair basketball is all about.”