Wheelchair basketball was born in 1946 in Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals in Birmingham (CAL) and Framingham (MA) where World War II veterans were being treated for various degrees of paralysis. Recognizing that they would by necessity use wheelchairs for the rest of their lives, they sought entertainment through numerous sports. Many started with ping-pong and pool, then progressed to bowling and swimming and quickly to wheelchair softball and basketball.
Within two years, six teams emerged, representing VA hospitals across the USA. National tournaments were organized and hosted by the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). Consequently, in 1948, the NWBA and the first official National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament (NWBT) were organized by NWBA Hall-of-Fame inductee Tim Nugent of the University of Illinois. That year, in a remarkable act of self-determination, the Birmingham (CAL) VA Flying Wheels took to the air and challenged teams throughout the USA. Wheelchair basketball soon became the number-one sport for individuals with disabilities.
Wheelchair basketball for women began to surface in the mid-1960s. In1968. a US team competed alongside US men in the Paralympic Games in Tel Aviv, Israel. Since only a men’s division existed at that time, the few women who played in the US competed on teams consisting of men only. By 1970, one team had been formed, the University of Illinois Ms. Kids. During the 1973-1974 season, the Ms. Kids played the Southern Illinois University Squidettes in the Men’s Old Gym on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana. This was the first recorded wheelchair basketball game between two organized women’s teams in the US, and coincidentally, the first women’s wheelchair basketball game between two collegiate women’s teams. A proposal to create a Women’s Division was submitted to and approved by NWBA delegates in 1977 by University of Illinois’ graduate student and future Hall-of-Famer Bob Szyman. By 1978 six teams competed in the national tournament, hosted by the University of Illinois. At present, 5 teams compete in the traditional Women's Division, 5 in the Intercollegiate Women's Division.
Since 1991, the NWBA has attained considerable recognition in the public domain. It became an associate member of the US Congress. It is now an active member of USA Basketball. Its former Commissioner, Stan Labanowich, yet another University of Illinois graduate and NWBA Hall of Famer, was appointed to USA Basketball’s Board of Directors.
Wheelchair basketball has come a long way since its origins in the US in the mid-1940s. The NWBA has since grown to 192 teams. We are also proud to say that the pioneering National Wheelchair Basketball Association has given birth to hundreds of teams from North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe, And we don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon. The next stop for the NWBA - the Olympics.
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