The Mad City Badgers teams help wheelchair youth basketball athletes develop skills on and off the court

There are only two wheelchair youth basketball programs in Wisconsin, and one of them is in Madison.
high schoolers playing wheelchair basketball
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., has a “prep” team for those younger than 14 that focuses on fundamentals and having fun, and a “varsity” traveling competitive team for middle and high school athletes.

Mad City Wheelchair Basketball Program Head Coach Amy Spangler 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 strength and physical stamina,” she says. “I’ve seen kids come out of their shell who were super introverted — all of a sudden they are more confident in their ability to socialize.”

While wheelchair basketball may be one of the most well-known accessible sports, Spangler says there are still misunderstandings about who is eligible to play.

“It’s not just people who use wheelchairs on a daily basis who can play wheelchair basketball,” Spangler says. Those who have physical disabilities from joint replacements, amputations or hip dysplasia, for example, but don’t use a wheelchair daily, are also eligible.

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

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

“Our team actually only has one kid from Madison on it,” Spangler says. “The state is pretty much divided … down the middle. I have kids that drive all the way from Stevens Point.”

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

Read about more adaptive sports in the Madison area here.

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