Syracuse University celebrates Disability Pride Week with wheelchair basketball tournament

SU celebrates Disability Pride Week with wheelchair hoops tourney

Move Along with Phi Kappa Psi and Gamma Phi Beta chapters helps raise money to replace stolen wheelchairs.
Published: April 17, 2023
Gamma Phi Beta and Phi Kappa Psi Hoops on Wheels
A top-down view as members of Move Along compete with Greek members at the Barnes Center at The Arch on Sunday.

Although the basketball courts of Barnes Center at The Arch are usually known for being the place on Syracuse’s campus to shoot around or play a quick game of pickup, this Sunday afternoon, they were the location for a very special event. Plenty of visitors were surprised when they walked into the facility and climbed the steps leading to the courts, only to find them lined with wheelchairs and scorer’s tables.

For three hours on Sunday, these courts were reserved for a wheelchair basketball tournament, “Hoops on Wheels,” as part of Syracuse University’s OrangeAbility. The event was hosted by Syracuse’s Phi Kappa Psi and Gamma Phi Beta chapters in partnership with Move Along Inc., an organization that promotes opportunities for both disabled people and allies to participate in adaptive sports. Recently, Move Along was the victim of a coordinated robbery by thieves who stole several of the organization’s wheelchairs.

“This event was put on by the fraternities and sororities to help us in an hour of need,” Move Along President Mike Smithson said. “Recently, we had one of our trailers stolen which had 15 basketball wheelchairs in it. The thieves cut the wheelchairs up and scrapped 14 out of those 15 chairs.”

Smithson said the wheelchairs were bought in 2014 for $2,000 each, but would cost $2,700 per chair to replace. On top of the increased price, insurance doesn’t cover all of the costs, he said.

Fortunately for the organization, Syracuse’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity found out about the theft and decided to help out. Simba Chen, philanthropy chair of Phi Kappa Psi, was invited in early November by chapter advisor Seth Gitner to participate in a wheelchair basketball event with Move Along. As soon as Chen heard about the robbery, he began thinking of ways to help out.

“When we found out that their wheelchairs were stolen, Professor Gitner and I got together to try and figure out how we could help. We decided to try and raise as much money as we can, and made the decision to turn this event for OrangeAbility into an opportunity to raise not just awareness, but also money for this great organization.”

Each 3-vs.-3 team contributed $60 to participate in the tournament.

Gamma Phi Beta and Phi Kappa Psi Hoops on Wheels
A member of Gamma Phi Beta attempts a shot on Sunday.

OrangeAbility marks the start of Syracuse’s 2nd annual Disability Pride Week, and it’s the first time that Carrie Ingersoll-Wood, Syracuse University’s new director of the Disability Cultural Center, will oversee it.

“The purpose is to bring together the Syracuse community to help understand disabilities and to celebrate disability identity and culture. We want them to see that there’s a culture that has a rich and very long history,” Ingersoll-Wood said.

It’s the first time OrangeAbility will be in person since the Covid-19 pandemic began. For Ingersoll-Wood, making sure these events are visible and prominent is as important as ever.

“If we don’t have events like this, no one will ever understand that they exist, and students will never understand how rich disability culture is in their own community,” Ingersoll-Wood said.

As the participants arrived, the players broke up into teams to warm up. It was the first time many of these players had ever been in a wheelchair, let alone played basketball in one. For Eli Roerden, a member of Phi Kappa Psi, that’s what the event is all about.

“We’re trying to raise awareness that you don’t have to be disabled to play wheelchair basketball,” Roerden said. “You can walk down the street, see a wheelchair basketball game, and ask to hop in. Just like you would with any other pickup game. It’s a great sport and we just hope people will realize that.”

Gamma Phi Beta and Phi Kappa Psi Hoops on Wheels

Members of Gamma Phi Beta cheer on their team during the championship round on Sunday.

Gamma Phi Beta and Phi Kappa Psi Hoops on Wheels

Members of Move Along compete with members of Phi Kappa Psi, Gamma Phi Beta and Kappa Kappa Gamma on Sunday.

The first round of action saw three half-court games played simultaneously. Each team had four players with three students and one Move Along athlete. These experienced wheelchair basketball veterans guided their teammates and made sure everyone got involved in the game.

“I’ve been active in wheelchair sports for 23 years now. I started at 15 and now I’m 38,” Move Along athlete Erik Ryan said. “It’s great to expose college age students to adaptive sports, and I’ve found over the years that the best way for someone to appreciate and enjoy the sport is to get them in a chair and try it for themselves.”

The games lasted for 10 minutes each, and were played with the same exact rules you’d expect to find at your local basketball court. All shots inside the 3-point arc earned one point, while any shot above it counted for two points. Check-ups, taking the ball back behind the 3-point line, and a bit of light-hearted trash talk could be heard in each game.

In the first game of the tournament, Gamma Phi Beta faced off against a team from Phi Kappa Psi. Both teams had trouble adjusting to what amounted to a new sport for them, and it remained a scoreless affair until Patrick Hefright sank a mid-range shot for the game’s first points for Phi Kappa Psi. The game was a low-scoring defensive battle, and the Phi Kappa Psi team held on to win the game 3-0.

As more teams made it deeper into the tournament, the games got more intense. The semifinals featured a matchup between teams from the Sigma Delta Tau and Gamma Phi Beta sororities. Ball movement and accurate shooting propelled Gamma Phi Beta to an 8-3 victory, where they soon faced off against a team from Phi Kappa Psi in the championship.

Phi Kappa Psi took an early 3-0 lead in the final showdown, but Gamma Phi Beta’s team soon mounted a comeback. The ladies tied it up at 3-3 with 90 seconds left to play, but couldn’t take the lead, and Phi Kappa Psi closed out the tournament with a 4-3 win.

With the championship game over, the basketball courts became free for shoot around and pickup games. Professor Seth Gitner, Phi Kappa Psi chapter advisor and Move Along board member, didn’t play in any of the tournament games, but got in on the action afterward.

“It’s really about the human experience,” Gitner said. “For all these students here, to get into a chair and try it out, and then to be alongside folks from Move Along who are disabled and play wheelchair basketball, it’s just an amazing human-to-human experience for them to have. And you can tell how amazing it is with all the smiles. Everyone’s having a good time trying it and realizing that it’s still just basketball.”


Wheelchair basketball event promotes inclusivity and adaptive sports


Phi Kappa Psi philanthropy chair Simba Chen said creating an experience for students was one of the goals organizers of OrangeAbility wanted to achieve.

“Inclusivity is a big thing in today’s world,”  Phi Kappa Psi philanthropy chair Simba Chen said. “There are different ways to have fun, but there are also ways where everyone can have fun. I think that’s the main takeaway. We’re not just raising awareness for disabilities, but showing people that you can still have fun playing a game like basketball in a slightly different way.”

Gamma Phi Beta and Phi Kappa Psi Hoops on Wheels
A general view of Sunday's wheelchair basketball tournament.