Basketball athletes

Mad City Badgers teams help young wheelchair basketball athletes develop their skills on and off the court

There are only two wheelchair youth basketball programs in Wisconsin, and one of them is in Madison.
Courtesy of Mad City Badgers

There are only two wheelchair youth basketball programs in Wisconsin, and one of them is in Madison.

The Mad City Badgers, part of Mad City Wheelchair Sports Inc., have an under-14 “preparatory” team that focuses on fundamentals and have fun, and a traveling “varsity” competitive team for athletes colleges and high schools.

Amy Spangler, head coach of the Mad City wheelchair basketball program, says the program has helped so many kids make friends and become more confident and social.

“[Basketball] gives them more confidence in their abilities and increases their physical strength and endurance,” she says. “I’ve seen kids come out of their shell who were super introverted – all of a sudden they’re more confident in their ability to socialize.”

While wheelchair basketball is perhaps one of the best-known accessible sports, Spangler says there are still misunderstandings about who is allowed to play.

“It’s not just people who use wheelchairs every day who can play wheelchair basketball,” Spangler says. Those with physical disabilities due to joint replacements, amputations or hip dysplasia, for example, but who do not use a wheelchair daily, are also eligible.

The organization also serves as an informal support group for children and their families, who know they have a place to talk to others in similar situations.

The state’s other wheelchair youth basketball team is in the Milwaukee area. People come from all over for Madison practices and tournaments, Spangler says, noting that most players aren’t from the immediate area. Due to COVID-19, Mad City Badgers practices are temporarily taking place in Dodgeville.

“Our team actually only has one kid from Madison,” Spangler says. “The state is pretty much split… down the middle. I have kids who travel all the way from Stevens Point.

Despite the motivations, Spangler says once everyone is in a gym together, the friendships that are formed last a lifetime.

Learn more about adaptive sports in the Madison area here.

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