Recreational therapy students bring adaptive sports to IU Bloomington

Students and faculty in the recreational therapy program at IU Bloomington noticed the lack of sports for those with disabilities -- not just on campus but in southern Indiana.

So, in 2014, a committee was formed to address that void.

Three years later, a grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs helped bring the Adaptive Sport Program at IU to life. As an official student organization on campus, they will pilot wheelchair basketball as a club sport this semester, welcoming anyone who wants to compete -- disabled or not.

"Realizing there were no adaptive sports on campus was an eye-opener for me," said Evan Davis, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and IU student who joined the steering committee in January 2016. "Filling this void is something I feel compelled to do as a veteran. Our mentality is, 'Oh, there's a job to do.' There's a need."

From top: Members of the Adaptive Sport Program at IU play a game of pick-up basketball; Evan Davis pauses to chat with his fellow players; and Kade Patterson, left, gives Tanner Caldemone a high-five during the game. Photos by James Brosher, IU Communications

Davis spearheaded the founding of the student organization, along with Cat Bouwkamp, an IU senior and former U.S. Paralympic Athlete, and Jennifer Piatt, an associate professor in IU's Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Studies. Kade Patterson, a paralyzed veteran and recreational therapy masters student, also assisted with the process before accepting a position with the Veterans Administration in Maryland.

In the early stages, the steering committee included members of the community in addition to School of Public Health-Bloomington representatives. The group organized various adaptive sport clinics in the Bloomington community from 2014 to 2016. But it was decided that this program could be most beneficial for student veterans if it were housed on the IU campus.

The Adaptive Sport Program at IU will include a wheelchair basketball team in addition to an aquatics and strength training component. Wheelchair basketball practices will be held twice a week in the Wildermuth Intramural Center. In addition, Brady Singleton, a tactical strength and conditioning coach in IU's Department of Military Science, will develop a weekly strength workout. Adaptive swimming at the IU Outdoor Pool, spearheaded by IU Aquatic Institute director William Ramos, will also be added during the summer.

Bradford Woods has been temporarily providing wheelchairs to the group, but funding from the grant will be used to purchase sport wheelchairs for each participant. Funds will also cover associated participation fees for all IU students who are active duty, reserve duty, National Guard or veterans and wish to be part of the program.

Davis and Bouwkamp point out the lack of community for their peers on campus. While most individuals can go out to the local basketball court and play a game of pick-up with their friends without a second thought, that's not the case for those with disabilities, Bouwkamp said.

The program, open to all IU students, staff, faculty and community members, aims to create a "truly inclusive" environment, Bouwkamp said.

"This group is truly inclusive, in the sense that we want everyone no matter their ability or disability," she said.

"We want to create a program that brings everyone together and fills a need for as many people as possible," Davis added.

Piatt, the group's faculty advisor, said Bouwkamp and Davis possess just what it takes to drive this type of program on campus.

"You can't teach passion. So it's phenomenal when you find students like this that just run with it," Piatt said. "The professionalism exhibited by Davis as he spearheaded the program demonstrates truly remarkable leadership."

In addition to contributing to something they are passionate about, Davis and Bouwkamp, along with their fellow recreational therapy classmates who volunteer, are gaining valuable experience for their future careers. They also hope to set up formal clinical opportunities for recreational therapy students to work one-on-one with athletes in the IU Adaptive Sport Program, an experience that doesn't exist currently on campus.

Davis, a self-proclaimed "big dreamer," hopes the student organization can morph into a Division II competitive team through the National Wheelchair Basketball Association someday.

But after years of hard work to bring their ideas to life, just getting students in wheelchairs on the basketball court is a memorable accomplishment for the group.

The Adaptive Sport Program at IU will host a demo day for anyone interested from 7 to 9 p.m. Nov. 9 at The Warehouse, 1525 S. Rogers Street in Bloomington.