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It was the night before his 18th birthday.
The clock was winding down on the most rewarding basketball game for Joe Kay, a two-sport star who had signed a letter of intent to attend Stanford on a volleyball scholarship.
Kay says he was "on top of the world," February 6, 2004, as he dunked on a breakaway and was about to revel in leading Tucson High's basketball team to a home win over its archrival.
But seconds after the 6-foot-6 Kay raised both arms over his head as the game ended, he was knocked down and piled on by frenzied fans who presumably just wanted to hoist him on their shoulders.
Kay suffered a severed carotid artery and a stroke that left him paralyzed on the right side.
For all I could tell, it was much like the school's regular recreation center. It had various adaptive athletic teams: men's and women's wheelchair basketball, quad rugby, wheelchair tennis, wheelchair track and road racing, weight training and conditioning and goalball.
"We had a lot of support from our community," assistant director of adaptive athletics Dave Herr-Cardillo said. "As we expanded our athletic programs past the men's basketball, the commitment of our administration really grew."
Arizona president Peter Likins and prominent Tucson automotive dealer Jim Click got involved. The university recruited athletes with disabilities from all over the country.
"The disabled athletes really seem to bring a new diversity to the university," Herr-Cardillo said.
|Joe Kay was Arizona's high school basketball player of the year in 2004.|
"President Likins in particular wasn't afraid of [the stigma attached to students with disabilities]," Herr-Cardillo said. "He was more interested in how it was adding to the campus community. He wasn't looking at it as a legal issue."Click has helped raise money for the adaptive athletics program through personal donations and fund-raising events like Run 'N' Roll, which holds charity races for runners and wheelchair racers.
After spending a semester at the UA, I figured the time was right for me to head to Stanford. I arrived on campus with the highest expectations. I was correct in almost all aspects of student life. It's a beautiful campus with huge fields, luscious green woodlands, and architecture to write home about. Its professors were knowledgeable and creative; its administrators were informed; and its coaches were extremely educated about their sport of interest.
|Outside the Lines (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET) takes a look at the dangers of rushing the court.|
I soon realized that my experience at Arizona was exceptional. Around the nation, few universities -- even elite ones -- have adaptive athletic programs and resources for students with disabilities like Arizona does. The number of colleges with adaptive athletic programs is minuscule.
Why is that?
"It is really a question of commitment to accept a strong, unorthodox athletic program," Herr-Cardillo said. "This isn't a rehab thing, it's a competitive sport. [Elsewhere] there is too much sympathy and not enough understanding."
Since none of the adaptive athletic teams are NCAA-sanctioned, they all have to figure out ways to fund themselves. At the University of Texas at Arlington, adaptive athletics receives about $90,000 per year from student fees. At Arizona, which spends $150,000-$200,000 per year, the adaptive athletic teams rely mainly on private donations.Eventually, Herr-Cardillo believes the issue of adaptive athletics will be decided by the courts. He believes adaptive athletics are mandated services, but he knows many people disagree. I believe that competitive athletes -- with and without disabilities -- should be represented on the NCAA-sanctioned level. Until that happens, we can go on thinking that we offer the highest sports competition in our country. However, there will always be a huge elephant in the room until the pitying of people with disabilities ends and the offering of meaningful recreational and athletic opportunities at the university level begins.