EWU Wheelchair Basketball Team Gaining Momentum

October 11, 2023

For the second consecutive year, EWU’s Adaptive Athletics Program will host a wheelchair basketball tournament. Everyone is invited to come out to Reese Court, starting at 10 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 14, and support the Eags. Games, including a 6 p.m. match-up featuring EWU vs. the Providence Saints, will take place throughout the day. Concessions are available for purchase, and admission is free.  

The Adaptive Athletics Program and its wheelchair basketball program is still relatively new, as 2023 marks just the fourth year of the program. But it continues to grow each year. The program’s first-ever wheelchair basketball camp is one example of such growth. The camp, held Aug. 8-11, hosted seventeen campers in its first year. The camp, says David Evjen, EWU wheelchair basketball’s head coach, provided one of the only opportunities for para-athletes to practice their skills in the region. 

“We are appealing to newer athletes, from a competitive and teaching standpoint, because we’re a newer program,”  says Evjen. 

Campers as young as 13, each with various experience levels, attended the camp in order to grow and hone their skills. “We end up teaching a lot to start building a culture as a program,” Evjen says. “As we continue to build, we’ll pull more athletes across the country with more experience.”

Players from as far as Alaska traveled to Eastern to attend the camp, many of whom stayed on campus in snyamncut residence hall. Athletes were provided their own room and shower chairs for accessibility. “The more camps we can have, the more we can grow the accessibility on campus,” Evjen says. 

Campers participated in three, two-hour sessions each day, with the evening session always ending in a game. A round-robin tournament closed the camp, with the winning team receiving free t-shirts and becoming honorary members of the “Highflyers Club.”

“Campers learned skills that they can take away and use back at home,” says Yunus Butts, the team’s assistant coach. “We want to emphasize independence because college is a viable option for these athletes.” 

In addition to teaching skills such as  ball handling, chairwork and offensive and defensive positioning, coaches at the camp emphasized important chair-maintenance skills. This involved, says Butts, “making sure that bearings and casters are cleaned and looked after, disinfecting the cushions, assessing what the straps look like for each athlete.” The ultimate goal, he added — one paramount to the Adaptive Athletics program — is to promote a sense of confidence and independence in the athletes. 

Evjen and Butts invite volunteers into the fold to help increase awareness for Adaptive Athletics and “normalize disability on campus.” Coach Butts, for example, says he would like more help in the weight room; he’s looking for volunteers who are hoping to “gain a broader experience with athletics.” In the past, the program has worked with students in EWU’s Department of Wellness and Movements Sciences to provide internship hours and hands-on experience. 

“We hope that student volunteers develop some sort of passion with adaptive athletics,” says Butts. “This is a growing field with a lot of opportunity.”

Next year, the team plans to introduce a full strength and conditioning session to their camp. “This will help athletes get a better understanding of what they can do off the court,” coach Butts says. “We are not only preparing the athlete for the sport, but preparing them for life.” 

The Adaptive Athletics department continues to grow at EWU, ushering in the next generation of para-athletes. 

Registration and dates for the 2024 summer camp will be announced in early January. 

For the wheelchair basketball team’s full tournament schedule, visit GoEags.com