Wisconsin-Whitewater is home to one of the most dominant sports programs the state has ever seen.
The Warhawks wheelchair basketball teams are national powerhouses, with the men and women coming together for 16 championships since 1982.
Whitewater players and alumni are heavily represented on Team USA for international competitions, including the upcoming America’s Cup of the International Wheelchair Basketball Federation in São Paulo, Brazil. That event, which starts on July 9, is a qualifier for the World Championships in November in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Jeremy “Opie” Lade and Christina Schwab know the rich Whitewater tradition and have helped to keep the standards high.
“I was actually at the very first adaptive sports camp here in Whitewater in 1993 and have been bleeding purple ever since,” Lade said.
Whitewater prides itself on being one of the most wheelchair accessible campuses in the country. The men’s wheelchair basketball team started almost 50 years ago.
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The 41-year-old Lade won a number of championships as a Whitewater player under Tracy Chynoweth. Then Lade took over as head coach in 2008, leading the Warhawks to six championships in 11 seasons before stepping down in 2020. He works as an academic advisor at the school and continues to lend his expertise to the wheelchair players.
Schwab, 41, grew up in Dane, Wisconsin, and also attended camps in Whitewater. But she played at the University of Illinois because the Warhawks didn’t have a women’s team until 2008. After a successful playing career, including winning three Paralympic gold medals, Schwab began coaching and was hired by Whitewater in 2016. Former Warhawks coach Dan Price won three 2012-14 women’s straight championships.
“One of the coolest things about Whitewater is how they embrace wheelchair basketball,” Schwab said. “Even when I’m recruiting athletes, I always talk about how people on this campus usually just assume you’re playing wheelchair basketball if you have a disability.
“Not everyone plays wheelchair basketball, but that’s the fun of it. You’re not just a face in the crowd here. When you’re on the wheelchair basketball team, they know about it. We have fans following us.”
Conquering the international stage
Schwab took over from Team USA’s women’s coach after leading the American men to a gold medal at the Paralympics in Tokyo last year. Two Whitewater players, Josie DeHart and Mandy Willmore, are on the roster, while former Warhawk Lindsey Zurbrugg is one of the veteran shiners.
“She has a lot of playing experience and that kid can shoot,” Schwab said of Zurbrugg. “Everywhere. She’s got the three-ball. She’s got a lot. She’s got a big offensive package, I’d say.”
The US men’s team has a large Whitewater contingent that includes current and former Warhawks Talen Jourdan, Jeromie Meyer, Dylan Fischbach and John Boie.
Boie, 31, played for Lade and also works as an academic advisor at Whitewater.
“I was absolutely blessed to grow up in Whitewater’s backyard, out of Milton, Wisconsin,” said Boie. “But Whitewater, the Duke of Kentucky of the wheelchair basketball world, certainly makes it a great destination.”
Boie, who won gold in Tokyo, is a key leader with nine newcomers to the national team.
“When you travel internationally, every other team in the world is much bigger,” said Boie. “A lot of these guys haven’t played abroad, so that’s a big learning curve to get to know that international game. It’s a lot more physical, it’s a lot faster. It’s fast. It’s very different.”
Wheelchair basketball is five-on-five, but there are rating values for players.
“You can be anywhere from a 1 to a 4.5 with half points in between,” Lade said. “That is based on the amount you can do if you are in a wheelchair.
“So Talen as Class 1 has the least physical function when he’s on the floor. Again, that doesn’t mean he’s the worst basketball player on the floor. That means he can’t use his abs. He doesn’t use his back muscle. He doesn’t have as many physical capabilities as some people who will be on the basketball floor.
“At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re a 4.5, you’re probably looking at your single amps. So when they’re in their wheelchair, they can still use both legs, whatever’s left of the other. have abs, they came back. So when they move, when they pass, when they shoot, they just have the physical ability to use more tools.”
Teams are limited to the total number of classification points on the floor at any given time, with 14 being the default.
Stay on top
The National Wheelchair Basketball Association has 12 teams in the men’s intercollegiate division, including Illinois, Arizona and Alabama.
“I think it’s pretty cool to see these other big schools that offer these huge scholarships and have these great facilities and Whitewater is just kind of a blue collar and people who want to work hard,” Boie said. “If you want to get better, you come here to play against the best and become the best.”
The women’s division consists of six teams.
“I’m not really that old and the fact that I had to choose between really just one school with an established women’s team about 20 years ago,” Schwab said, “And now women have the option to choose between six universities and where they want to go .
“I think that’s great growth. Really, that’s what I want to see in wheelchair basketball on the American side. Internationally, we have a lot of potential in this country. So it’s very important that we keep girls involved in the game.”
AJ Messmer has become the men’s coach at Whitewater, but Lade has shown how the winning tradition is passed down through the years.
“Success is one of those tricky things to grow,” Lade said. “Because in the end there is more to it than just practicing wheelchair basketball and getting good at wheelchair basketball.
“There’s the aspect of having fun in that process. There’s the aspect of being successful in the classroom so that all of our athletes qualify to get on the ground. There’s the process of taking kids to camps and taking care of them.” make sure they know how much fun we are having and enjoying the process of becoming successful not only in wheelchair basketball, but in life.”