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Adapted sports support well-being priorities

A new inclusive training curriculum will help prepare physical activity professionals

Players celebrating during wheelchair basketball

In fall 2021, a newly funded project kicked off to promote wellness within the West Virginia University community through adapted sport. Mountaineers on the Move will incorporate wheelchairs into physical activity courses, allowing the WVU community to learn and participate in an inclusive environment.  

Andrea Taliaferro, associate professor, said the two-year project, funded through the WVU Office of Health and Promotion and Wellness, is focused on preparing current and future physical activity professionals regarding inclusive beliefs.

“We will promote the well-being of individuals with disabilities using adapted sport while promoting physical activity engagement through participation. Additionally, we envision enhancing community involvement through adapted sport in coursework and service-learning opportunities,” Taliaferro said.  

“The reviewers were impressed with how well Dr. Taliaferro’s team aligned their project’s goals with our University’s well-being priorities. Adapted sports have clear benefits for emotional, physical, social and community wellness,” Amy Sidwell, director, Health Promotion and Wellness, said.

“We were fully funded $41,100 for our project to purchase 16 all-court sport wheelchairs and accessories. We will integrate wheelchairs into physical education kinesiology and athletic coaching education courses. This will begin next year by incorporating adapted sport curricular units covering wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis,” Taliaferro said.

“This will first be integrated into the academic content knowledge courses completed by PEK majors in teaching racket sports and teaching basketball,” she added. 

A tipoff during wheelchair basketball

Graduate Students Aiding Implementation

Graduate teaching assistants Chloe Simpson and Kayla Abrahamson worked with Taliaferro to submit the grant. Faculty and graduate teaching assistants will participate in orientation for the new courses this summer.

Abrahamson explained that the funding allows the group to continue their ongoing joint venture. “This has been an amazing learning experience so far, especially as a first-year graduate research assistant,” she said. “I have already learned so much through the grant writing process and will continue to grow as a scholar throughout the implementation. Our next steps will start this summer as Chloe and I develop wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis training programs for graduate assistants, faculty members and instructors within the PEK department. We are excited to get Mountaineers on the Move started and hopefully foster a more inclusive and healthier WVU community.”

“We plan to incorporate the all-court sport wheelchairs into courses associated with the Friday Adapted Physical Education Practicum teaching. Students in these courses will include the chairs into the Friday program, along with potential use for practicum activities at Stepping Stones,” she added.

Simpson said that she and Abrahamson come from institutions that offered club wheelchair sports. “On our lunch walks around the track by CPASS, we dreamt about playing wheelchair basketball together and reminisced about our previous clubs,” she described. “With support and mentorship from Dr. Taliaferro, we developed a project that integrates wheelchairs into future physical activity professionals’ learning experiences to prepare them to facilitate inclusive physical activity opportunities in their future careers.” 

A shot is made during wheelchair basketball

Implementing Goals

According to Simpson, the project will provide valuable lessons preparing her for a future career as a professor in physical education teacher education. “Learning the nuances of grant-writing, how to develop an implementation and evaluation plan and creating a budget and project timeline are skills I intend on using as faculty. These are invaluable skills, and I’m thankful to have an adviser like Dr. Taliaferro who encourages my interests and passions with her ongoing mentorship and support,” she said.

The project team is working on purchasing the chairs and developing training and a curriculum. By the end of the summer, they plan to provide training to faculty and graduate teaching assistants who will be involved in teaching wheelchair sport. In the first year, Simpson and Abrahamson will teach wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis lessons.

“Eventually, our project possesses long-term goals of Paralympic school days in K-12 schools, establishing a club team, and expanding to include wheelchair basketball as an intramural sport at WVU,” Taliaferro explained. 

The Office of Health Promotion and Wellness has funded eight well-being projects during the inaugural request for proposals process. The office intends to connect applicants with additional resources and extend the network of wellness programming and will continue to identify project ideas that align with the WVU Wellbeing Wheel, the framework that drives health and wellness initiatives at the University.

Players fight for ball during wheelchair basketball

Preparing Current and Future Physical Activity Professionals

Abrahamson says that one objective of the grant was to involve students and community members in adapted sport opportunities. During the clinic, the group welcomed members of the Charlottesville Cardinals Wheelchair Basketball Team along with WVU students and faculty members to introduce them to adapted sport competition. Another objective was to promote physical activity engagement through adapted sport. The clinic was an opportunity for others to discover new physical activity opportunities.

Physical activity opportunities for people with disabilities are uncommon. For current and future physical activity professionals, it is important to understand how to best serve and provide physical activity opportunities for all people. This clinic introduced one sporting activity that both people with and without disabilities can participate in. By introducing adapted sports, participants will better understand the importance of providing inclusive physical activity, regardless of ability. Events such as the wheelchair basketball clinic can help others realize there are opportunities for all people to compete and engage in physical activity. 

In the 2021 fall semester, the group hosted an adapted sport orientation, provided a Paralympic station during Welcome Week, held the wheelchair basketball clinic and introduced wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis into PE and PET courses. Through the semester, they taught wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis in undergraduate courses and planned to host another wheelchair basketball clinic. In the future, they will continue to incorporate adapted sport curriculum into basic instruction programs (BIP), other physical education courses and introduce an adapted sport course. Abrahamson says they are working to provide additional adapted sport opportunities in the coming year.

Abrahamson also says that participants provided positive feedback. “Many of the participants said they enjoyed the competitive nature of the game and how difficult it was. It is often assumed that adapted sports aren't highly competitive and challenging, but after participating in these activities, perceptions often change. Being able to watch participants thoroughly enjoy and engage in wheelchair basketball was personally the best part of this clinic. It was exciting to see the direct impact this grant has had on the WVU community,” she said. 

Charlottesville Cardinals Wheelchair Basketball Team

“I’ve been coaching and playing wheelchair basketball and other adaptive sports for the past 42 years and am thrilled to see the advent of adaptive sports programming at West Virginia University,” said Tom Vandever, team founder and coach of the Charlottesville Cardinals.

“WVU is setting a high standard for fellow members of the Big 12 Conference schools — none of which offer similar programming. In addition, WVU’s acquisition of 16 high-performance sports chairs places them in a class of their own and is much larger than the handful of similar programs around the country,” he stated.   

Vandever also expressed admiration for the effort from faculty and students. “Andrea Taliaferro and her graduate assistants were truly innovative and persistent in acquiring the necessary funding and building broad support for the program from WVU’s faculty and administrative personnel,” he added.

“At the recent wheelchair basketball clinic, I was extremely impressed with the enthusiasm of all the students and participants. I especially enjoyed seeing faculty members and deans jump in the chairs and immediately become immersed in the fun and challenge of the sport. Everyone seemed intent on absorbing the fundamentals of maneuvering the chairs and mastering the finer points of the game,” he said.

“Before long, WVU will be producing some very skilled wheelchair athletes.”

Vandever explained his passion for wheelchair basketball and the overall benefits of adaptive sports. “My primary experience is with wheelchair basketball. I believe it is one of the most exciting and captivating sports for both participants and observers. Wheelchair basketball highlights the abilities, not the disabilities, of the athletes, many of whom are world-class athletes by any measurement,” he stated.

“I always tell people that when they see wheelchair basketball, at first all they see are wheelchairs. But after a few minutes, the wheelchairs seem to fade away and they see the skill of the athletes, the game they know and the competition,” he said. “When they leave the gym, they’re not talking about wheelchairs, they’re talking about athletes. That is the magic of wheelchair basketball and all adaptive sports.” 

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