Hoop dreams

Jennifer Leopoldt

The smooth sound of whooshing wheels filled Blomquist Recreation Center on Monday night when Wheels of Change sponsored its basketball tournament.

The student group invited the Windy City Warriors, a junior-league wheelchair team, to take on Northwestern varsity athletes to raise awareness of accessibility issues on campus.

“We’re trying to get our name out there and get established in the Northwestern community,” group member Daniel Ellman said.

Wheels of Change, established last year, promotes accessibility on campus for students with learning, visual, hearing or physical impairments.

Ellman, who played on a wheelchair team in high school, suggested having a game at NU because his team often played varsity athletes for fund-raisers.

“I think it helped people gain an appreciation for those who use wheelchairs,” said Ellman, a Medill sophomore.

Wheels of Change members began planning in May for the game and put on the event as a part of New Student Week.

But not everything rolled along smoothly. The athletic department alerted the group Friday that the men’s and women’s varsity basketball teams had not received National Collegiate Athletic Association clearance.

In place of the basketball teams, NU arranged for athletes from the wrestling, swimming, baseball, softball, field hockey and fencing teams to play.

“The athletic department did get other athletes for us,” Ellman said. “But it was very frustrating, because we had to start over with new athletes and new plans three days before the event.”

The group’s planning seemed to pay off. Members had to fetch extra chairs to seat the excited crowd, and the walls of Blomquist reverberated as metal scraped metal and students cheered.

Wheels of Change was founded last year by Rebecca Pascal, Music ’02, because the Music Administration Building was not handicap-accessible and her mother, who uses crutches, could not come to performances.

In the short time Wheels of Change has been active at NU, the group already has made its presence felt. In Winter Quarter members assessed 16 buildings on campus to rate their compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We were not happy with the results we saw,” said Ariel Schwartz, an Education sophomore who now heads the group.

As a result of the building compliance tests, Wheels of Change set out to raise awareness about inaccessibility on campus. Six members in February spent a week in wheelchairs, only getting out to sleep, shower or use the bathroom.

At the end of the awareness week, the group met with NU administrators and formed university and student access advisory committees.

Next up for Wheels of Change is gaining Associated Student Government recognition, Schwartz said. The group is small, with fewer than 10 members, so recruitment is another goal.

And from the looks of Monday night’s event, outsiders seem pleased with the direction the group is heading.

“It’s cool to show able-bodied people how talented wheelchair athletes are,” said Matt Ciarlette, a Warriors player from Joliet, Ill.

Dan Humphreys, the Warriors’ coach, said his team often beats able-bodied athletes.

“In games like this, we typically end up spotting the other team 20 to 30 points,” he said.

Schwartz said she hopes Wheels of Change events show that students with disabilities should be recognized and appreciated at NU.

“Everyone has the right to be at Northwestern but not everyone feels like they have a chance to be part of the community,” she said.