Wheelchair basketball game help raise awareness

The UW-Whitewater wheelchair basketball teams put on a demonstration at Madison College on Oct. 22 in Redsten Gymnasium.

Josh Zytkiewicz

The UW-Whitewater wheelchair basketball teams put on a demonstration at Madison College on Oct. 22 in Redsten Gymnasium.

Frederic Hewitt, Sports Editor

In the midst of disability awareness week, Madison College hosted UW-Whitewater’s wheelchair basketball team for a demonstration in Redsten Gymnasium. Students and staff were given an opportunity to use some of the extra wheelchairs the team had brought to fully participate and even play against the team.

Coach Dan Pirce gave a brief overview of the sport and the team as a whole, stating that UW-Whitewater has one of the most notable collegiate wheelchair basketball programs in the country.  They have won the men’s national title in eight of the last 11 years and the women’s team is on their way to a fourth consecutive national championship.

“We recruit athletes from all over the world,” Pirce said. “And when I say all over the world, I actually mean all over the world.  Currently we have some members in our program from Australia, Israel, Netherlands, and Sweden.  We’ve also had some from Germany, Canada, and England.

“They all decide to come to Whitewater, because just like when you think of stand-up basketball, you think of Duke, North Carolina, and even Connecticut as being the best of the best at the college level, and that’s exactly what we are in wheelchair basketball.”

The two most notable players on the UW-Whitewater women’s and men’s wheelchair basketball teams are Mariska Beijer and Dylan Fischbauch.
Beijer goes by the nickname “Mars” and is originally from the Netherlands.  She is an active player on the

Netherlands national team.  They recently won the bronze medal at the 2014 Women’s World Wheelchair Basketball Championship, and won the Gold in 2013 at the European Wheelchair Basketball Championship.

“I’ve been apart of the Netherlands National team since 2008 and came to the United States in the spring semester of 2013. I plan on going to play professionally in probably Germany, Italy, or Spain,” Beijer said after the friendly scrimmage against Madison staff and students.

Fischbauch from Vermillion, S.D., and has been playing wheelchair basketball since the fourth grade, making this his 10th season overall participating in the sport.  He is also being asked to try out for the United States national team, making the long journey of playing wheelchair basketball that much more of a rewarding experience.

“The best part about playing is meeting all the people and making all the friends.  If it weren’t for the game of wheelchair basketball, I wouldn’t have met some of the greatest people in my life and some of the good friends I have,” Fischbauch said.

“I met my best friend when we were playing together for the under-20 U.S. national team in 2009 and both decided from there that we were going to play college basketball at Whitewater.  This sport has taken me all over the world and given me experiences that I would have never gotten otherwise, and for that I have to appreciate it.”

These athletes practice four hours a day five days a week, while maintaining an overall team grade-point-average of 3.6.  This shows not only how much of the mental challenge that they’re willing to endure, but also the physical.  This is indicative of why Whitewater has become a powerhouse.  They acquire great athletes with a great personality and attitude.