I wanted to give you all an update on what is going on currently at the DRC/Adaptive Athletics as we end this fiscal year and our season comes to its official end. We have accomplished much this year despite the turmoil that our world has been experiencing most of 2020. I am very proud of our team, students and staff and can not thank you all enough for your unwavering support. While recent events have shown us that sports is not the most important thing in the world, it is (in my opinion) a great reminder that people can come together for a common goal and through sport we are able to improve human life. There may be no better example of this then our adaptive sports program here at the University of Arizona.
The good news (it is long and it is plentiful)
At the time of writing this all of our student athletes are healthy and well and most of them are working out virtually with our new strength and conditioning coach Courtney Soto. Academically we excelled this semester with only 3 of our 39 student- athletes needing some additional help to keep their scholarship (2.5 gpa requirement which is why we offer summer school!). Two athletes graduated with their Bachelors degree and will be spotlighted soon on our social media pages (please follow). This year we have a recruitment class of over 10 new students including 5 Craig Neilson Scholarship recipients (special thanks to Angeline Carbajal, Cheryl Muller, Rose Romo & Mike Beardsley for their work on this scholarship). We now have had around 2 million dollars in tuition/housing awarded to people with Spinal cord Injuries over the last five years with this one scholarship…amazing! Two students of this most recent group are from Canada and are members of the Canadian developmental Paralympic team. Five years ago recruitment of international athletes was only a dream, now it is a reality as we have student athletes from Mexico, Canada and Australia representing our program next season. Eleven of our athletes (5 current and 6 alumni) had made the 2020 Paralympic roster (we had a chance for more but the track trials were cancelled). As of now these athletes still plan on competing in 2021. They include Courtney Ryan our new assistant women’s basketball coach and Chad Cohn our new wheelchair rugby head coach. Along with Coach Jennifer Poist and Coach Bryan Barten we now have 4 coaches on staff with direct Paralympic experience. Coach Mike Beardsley was promoted to interim-Head coach men wheelchair basketball last year and was also named recruiting coordinator. He did an excellent job and we will drop the Interim name from his title at the beginning of this season. Our Senior Coach Derek Brown has excelled with recruitment of new track and hand-cycling athletes. There is strong daily discussion between Coach Brown and I on how we can add ambulatory runners and Tri-athletes into our programming in the near future. Coach Brown of course is the architect (along with Dave HC) for successfully bringing wheelchair track, women’s wheelchair basketball and hand-cycling to our program. Coach Poist has rebuilt the women’s team and for the first time ever the men and the women competed together in the collegiate division of wheelchair basketball (this requires all athletes on men and women’s basketball team be full time University Students). We have just completed our first year of Adaptive golf and have announced Matt Chandler as that programs new head coach. This was the first year ever we had a dedicated Athletic Trainer work with our students (Allison Leonard) which was a fantastic move forward in student support (thanks to Campus Health). We have continued with our partnership with the University of Tennessee and the Global Mentoring Sports Program and the US Department of State as we host dignitaries from around the world and teach them about adaptive sport so that they may improve their countries support of people with disability through sport and advocacy.
The State of Arizona decided (rightfully so!) to support adaptive athletics (special thanks to Rob Egan and Kate Brophy-McGee). While the monies are set aside for any state university currently we are the only program in the state and we were awarded 160k of matching funds that went to scholarships, travel, uniforms and equipment. Our program was honored to host President Robbins, Governor Ducey and many other VIPS for the celebration of the states support of adaptive athletics and the ribbon cutting of our new golf simulator (partnered with our amazing Campus Rec Program) which kicked off of our new adaptive golf program (Special thanks to Jon Moore) which will allow us to offer more opportunities for people with different types of disabilities, like visual impairment, hemiplegia and brain injuries to name a few. In fact, our gym has been completely remodeled with state of the art equipment and we look forward to it being re-opened in August for students and community members.
The Challenges: (They are real and we accept them)
Cancellation of all of our nationals was an extreme blow to the moral of our students, staff and faculty. But we rebounded quickly and understand that no competition is worth the health or well-being of our students or staff members. With the money saved from not traveling to nationals we were able to upgrade our gym and purchase state of the art accessible equipment that will last us for years into the future. We were forced to cancel our awards gala (Thanks to Brenda Hamilton and Angeline Carbajal) this was also a blow to our fund-raising expectations for the year. (Special thanks to the families of Richard Luebke and Jim Click and every single donor that turned their support of the gala into an unrestricted donations!…AMAZING!)
Our biggest challenge currently is the planning of our next two fundraising events due to the uncertainty of our current climate.
The Jim Click Run and Roll has been our key fund-raising event for many years now. Not only is the race a fantastic event it generates a lot of financial support for our program. This year we will face serious challenges because we cannot yet promise that we will be allowed to have a large event on campus due to social distancing rules and Athletics cannot yet promise that our famous Tailgate spot and football game tickets will be available as they prepare for their own safety concerns (restricted crowd size, etc). Both Campus Use and Athletics are doing their best in this tough time and we support their efforts (We are all in this together!). We remain optimistic about these events while remaining flexible to adapt to this challenging time. This year will be the first time ever that we offer a “Virtual” Race which will add opportunities to our friends and supporters from around the world to participate in the Jim Click Run and Roll from their own home town. Can’t make it to Tucson that weekend run your 8k somewhere else that weekend and still get our shirt! The Run and Roll is planned for Oct. 4, 2020 and the Tailgate/football game vs. USC is tentatively planned for Oct 17th. (Fingers Crossed)
In Memory: Sadly, this year we lost our dear friend and former wheelchair rugby coach Brad McFadden who brought to the University his great smile, genuine care for people and two national back-to-back titles. Brad will be greatly missed and we will hold a celebration of life for him sometime in fall semester.
The Future (So very Bright)
Anticipating issues with hosting a fully powered Jim Click Run and Roll in October we are pleased to announce the planning of our 2nd Golf tournament fundraiser put on by our friends at TeeitUp. This event which will allow adaptive golfers to golf side by side with celebrities, retired and professional athletes and community members to support our adaptive athletics program directly. This event is scheduled in April and for those who stick around after our fundraiser you will be able to watch the top adaptive golfers from around the world compete in a large 3 day tournament, the first ever of its kind with a fully inclusive adaptive golf format. This will of course feature our adaptive golf program and the top players from around the world. It is rumored that ESPN 2, Sports Illustrated and the golf channel will be in town covering these events. Great for our program for recruitment, national exposure and of course great for Tucson as our city continues to prove to be the place to be if you have a disability.
Our great friend Jim Click has worked with our athletics department and it looks extremely likely that we will have a spot set aside in the Jim Click Hall of Champions showcasing our national trophies and accomplishments. I can not accurately tell you how important it is to put our athletes next to ICA athletes. Bye doing this we are shifting the social perception to the more positive look, that our program, our athletes and our accomplishments stand as equals (as well they should). It means everything to us and thank you Jim Click for asking and thank you for Athletics for warmly receiving this request.We will do our best to do a “Meet our Athletes” event at the hall of champions sometime in October (hopefully the Jim Click Run and Roll weekend) to celebrate us being in the Hall of Champions and to introduce all our new athletes to our supporters. This will be a “Free” event where our sponsors and new friends will get to learn about our program.. A nice casual night right here on campus. Our awards night will look similar to this event at the end of the year where we focus on our teams accomplishments. For now our GIANT AWARDS Gala will only take place every four years starting in 2024. Essentially the Gala will be a Paralympic year only event and in its place we will have a pre-season and post season event designed not on fundraising but on the introduction and celebration of our student-athletes. Of course people will have the opportunity to make a donation at these events but no live/silent auctions. Just the quiet ask.
Working with our community program partners like Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports, Challenge Athletes foundation, Kelly Brush foundation, Craig Neilson foundation to name just a few we have successfully put Tucson on the map for the place to be if you are a disabled athlete. Tucson now has programs for kids, adults, beginners, intermediate, advanced and of course students-athletes. The vision which was once cloudy is now incredibly clear thanks to the leadership of people like Dr. Amanda Kraus, Mia Hansen and my amazing staff. With our partnerships we hope to increase not only sporting opportunities for people with disabilities but opportunities for employment, recreation and social development. Amazing programs and I’m proud to announce that in the next two years University of Arizona Adaptive Athletic program will start its “Big Brother/Big Sisters on Wheels (name subject to change)” program where we will teach our athletes how to be peer mentors of youth with disabilities. With the attempt to have a “big brother/sister” to look up to and to offer encouragement that they to will one day be able to go to a University and chase their own personal academic and athletic dreams We will follow this with a “Wheelchairs from Wildcats” where we take donated wheelchairs repair them and bring them to different places around the world doing coaching clinics and donating our old used equipment to people who can learn from our students. This is something I have personally done over the last 10 years and it is a life changing experience for any who get to participate on these trips. As I said our future is bright!
Everyday I am humbled by the support that this program receives from its community and its friends. In 2004 on my way driving out here for the opportunity to play for Coach Brown and to become a Wildcat, I turned to my wife and said to her “What the hell are we doing? Leaving our world, your family, my job, our home for me to play basketball?!?” Her answer was “I have no idea!”. Now when I ask myself that same question the answer is simple and clear “We are changing the world”. I would not be in a this position without your support. Thank you for trusting me with this role, it remains my great passion.
“Champions are made in Tucson”
University of Arizona