The 2016 NCAA basketball tournament is in full swing this week. After this weekend, the original crop of 64 teams in both the men’s and women’s brackets will be trimmed down to the Elite Eight teams who will go on to fight for a spot in the Final Four. This week, we take a look at the beginnings of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association and its ties to Veterans Health Administration hospitals.
In 1946, World War II veterans in VHA hospitals in Birmingham, Calif., Framingham, Mass., and the Corona Naval Station, Calif., played against doctors, according to the NWBA historical site. The next year, the first game between two wheelchair basketball teams, the Birmingham Flying Wheels and the Corona team, tipped off at the Corona Naval Station.
The following year in 1948, the first official National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament was organized and VA teams and players joined the NWBA soon after.
Women’s wheelchair basketball leagues began to gain popularity in the 1960s. The first documented women’s wheelchair basketball game was between the University of Illinois Ms. Kids and the Southern Illinois University Squidettes at the University of Illinois-Urbana campus. Then, after a 1977 proposal to create a Women's Division by U of I grad student Bob Szyman, six women's teams competed in the national tournament the next year.
The NWBA now has more than 200 teams and is an active part of USA Basketball, playing against teams around the world in the Paralympic Games and World Championships.
Photos and facts courtesy of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association History Page.