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TJ Comer, an 18-year-old wildlife ecology freshman, plays wheelchair basketball Thursday evening as part of the Inclusivity project at RecSports. Every other semester, wheelchair basketball is offered as a sport for UF students to compete in. Students who aren’t handicapped are encouraged to join to raise awareness for disabilities and to understand people who have disabilities. “It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be,” Comer said. “But eventually I got used to it.” He said he was planning on joining intramural basketball and flag football but is now considering joining wheelchair basketball.  

UF’s Wheelchair Basketball Club only has able-bodied players, but its players are trying to change that. 

The club plans to participate in the UF RecSports Wheelchair Basketball Tournament Wednesday to promote itself and its mission of inclusivity.

The club’s president, Amanda Zoghindy, a 20-year-old UF health science senior, said the club, which was founded in early February, has had trouble reaching people with disabilities.  

Zoghindy, who is able-bodied, said the club had two wheelchair-user members, but both left this summer –– one graduated, and the other lost interest. 

Even though the team is made up of students who can walk, Zoghindy said it is a great opportunity for them to experience the struggles that people with a mobility disability face. 

“It’s hard,” Zoghindy said. “It is really hard to play, but it really opens your mind to something brand new, something that you would have never thought of before.”   

Dug Jones, team coach and associate vice president for economic development at Santa Fe College, has played and coached wheelchair basketball for more than 15 years. 

Jones is happy there are able-bodied people on the team because they can understand how disabled people operate, he said. However, the club needs to find students with disabilities, so they can have the same opportunities as able-bodied students. 

He said people might be hesitant to play because they might think it is offensive to people with disabilities, but they need to see the wheelchair as adaptive equipment instead of a health condition. 

Jones started playing after acquiring an injury in high school that put him in a wheelchair. He said it saved his life.

“I was an athlete, and it allowed me to return to being active, athletic and competitive,” Jones said. “For me, it was a great vehicle for returning to being happy, active and productive in life.” 

The club, which practices Thursdays at 6 p.m., was recognized as an official sports club in October, which means RecSports advises and provides the club with the resources to grow, Griffin said. 

However, the club practices at Broward Outdoor Recreational Center. Carolyn Hanson, the club’s adviser and assistant professor at the College of Public Health and Health Professions, said this is an issue because the wheelchairs are stored at the Southwest Recreation Center, and team members use four cars to take chairs back and forth.

The team has not been allowed to hold regular practices at the center’s indoor court, which they need to recruit people with disabilities, Hanson said. 

“They [RecSports] have on their website that it’s an inclusive sport, open to all kinds of people,” Hanson said. “We are feeling that we are not being included in that inclusivity.” 

Jon Broska, the associate director for sports programs at UF RecSports, said he has discussed this issue with the club officers, and will reach out to all RecSports sports clubs next week to work on a practice schedule for the Spring semester. 

“it’s important that there’s a sport on this campus for people with disabilities because they can't necessarily participate in all the able-bodied activities –– at least not equally,” Jones said.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Jones’ injury was not as a result of playing football.