Theresa Swope


AUBURN -- Matt Haynes shoots, he scores and the crowd goes wild as he wheels back down the court.


Yes, Matt Haynes is playing basketball from a wheelchair.

Haynes, an undergraduate student assistant with Auburn University's Program for Students with Disabilities, is putting together a wheelchair basketball team for the Auburn community.

"This program could benefit those with physical disabilities as a source of exercise and fellowship with other disabled citizens," Haynes said.

Play is not limited to disabled players though. Able-bodied members are just as welcome on the court.

"For the non-disabled participants, the program would raise their awareness of the experiences of the disabled, thus bringing down the barriers of stigma and discrimination," Haynes said.

The senior from Trussville, who is majoring in rehabilitation services, played competition wheelchair basketball during his junior and senior years of high school.

"I played with the Lakeshore Foundation in Homewood near Birmingham," Haynes said. "For competition play you have to have a lower extremity disability like amputation, cerebral palsy - which is what I have spina bifida, paraplegic or quadriplegic."

Haynes said the biggest obstacles in getting the Auburn team together are money and equipment. The Auburn Parks and Recreation Department has agreed to let the group practice at the city's Frank Brown Recreation Center.

"They are furnishing the court and the balls," Haynes said. "But we still need chairs. Only myself and one individual have wheelchairs to play in. Mine is a basketball chair and their's is an everyday chair," he said. He said the game can be played in an everyday chair, but it's not as easy or safe.

"The difference between an everyday wheelchair and a basketball chair is the wheels (on a basketball chair) are at an angle to increase the pivot and turn, and to decrease the likelihood of hurting your hands when two chairs hit each other," he said.

Haynes said basketball wheelchairs can be bought used, but are still expensive.

"One new basketball chair costs as much as $2,500 and a used one is from $500 to $1,000," he said. "We are beginning to look into a corporate sponsorship that would pay for 10 wheelchairs so that our able-bodied supporters can play, and so that those who are disabled but do not have basketball chairs can use one."

Other expenses Haynes foresees include the equipment to maintain the chairs, such as tires and a wrench set.

"We have come up with a budget for one season of competition play," he said. "That includes the referees, jerseys and travel costs." He said the projected cost for putting the team together and playing one year of competition play, including one tournament, is about $22,977 with new chairs, or $12,997 with used chairs.

He said a local team would more than likely be classified as Division III "a little older than youth age but still developing skills," he said. He said that division includes teams from Birmingham and Huntsville.

"It's open to all students, faculty and community members," he said. "Right now we need people."

Haynes said there aren't many differences between wheelchair ball and able-bodied basketball. Haynes said the court dimensions, three-point line, free-throw line and goal height all meet collegiate standards, although younger players may use an eight-foot goal. He said traveling is called after a player pushes his wheelchair three times without dribbling the ball, there is a four-second in-the-lane rule (as compared to three seconds in the regular game) and wheelchair ball uses a 35-second shot clock as opposed to shorter shot clocks in pro and college basketball.

"If a player ever falls out of his or her chair, play is stopped only when the action of play goes towards the fallen player," Haynes said. "Hence if you fall out and everyone follows the ball away from you, they keep playing and you just get yourself back up there ... It's not as bad as it sounds, trust me."

According to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, this not-so-new sport began in 1946 as a form of rehabilitation for paralyzed World War II veterans. The first teams were formed by the New England and California chapters of Paralyzed Veterans of America. Soon, other chapters in the United States and Canada had formed their own teams. By 1948 there were six teams in the United States, so the Birmingham Flying Wheels from Birmingham, Calif. decided to travel cross country and play those other teams.

That tour gave life to the first wheelchair basketball team outside a Veterans Affairs hospital. First called the Kansas City Wheelchair Bulldozers, it was later renamed the Kansas City Rolling Pioneers. The first college team, the University of Illinois Gizz Kids, was formed in 1948. The NWBA now consists of 22 conferences and boasts 165 teams.

Haynes said he plans to make the Auburn team a part of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association as soon as it is organized.

Anyone interested in playing wheelchair basketball can contact Haynes at 502-7176 or via email at haynemc@auburn.edu or just show up for practice Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. at the Frank Brown Recreation Center near the intersection of Opelika Road and Gay Street.

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CONTACT: Matt Haynes, 334/502-7176/