Boise State introduces wheelchair tennis program

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When Boise State student Randy Corbett broke his back 30 years ago, he was introduced to the vast world of adaptive sports. 

Like much of the able-bodied population, Corbett was previously unaware of the variety of athletic opportunities for those with physical disabilities. Numerous sports have been adapted, including tennis, basketball and rugby.

Corbett found a passion for wheelchair tennis and has since traveled the world competing in events such as the UNIQLO Wheelchair Tennis Tour.

“It really is a whole different world that nobody even knows about and it’s kind of neat to see it growing,” Corbett said. 

After an extensive career in international wheelchair tennis, Corbett returned to Idaho with the mission of providing locals with the same opportunity. Thus, he founded the Idaho Wheelchair Tennis Association, for which he both competes and coaches new athletes.

Corbett is now taking this mission of spreading adaptive sports one step further. As his capstone project, Corbett is working with Boise State University to bring a wheelchair tennis program to campus. 

With the establishment of a wheelchair tennis team, the population of students in the disability community will be provided with exercise and a sense of community.

“I know, through the people I’ve coached and introduced the sport [to], that it changes their lives,” Corbett said. “It allows them to do things that they never could have done without this sport. I’m very invested in it.”

Tennis will not be the first adaptive sport to be introduced on campus. Wheelchair basketball has existed as an intramural sport for seven years. However, as of now, the team mainly consists of able-bodied individuals.

Wheelchair basketball coach Kevin Falk illustrated his plan regarding recruitment for adaptive sports at Boise State, all hinging on exposure through competition.

“We can play against other teams in Salt Lake and Spokane and make Boise State a really good entity – make people want to come to school here,” Falk said.

Currently, Corbett is working alongside the associate director of Campus Recreation, Jared Cox, to develop a solid sports team that would then be provided with facilities and supported by the university.

Cox aspires to follow the lead of schools such as the University of Alabama and establish an entire adaptive sports program, beyond just tennis and basketball.

Naturally, the incorporation of a sports program will take priority over singular teams. Thus, questions regarding scholarships and recruitment will be answered farther along in the process.

Until all business is finalized, the Boise State wheelchair tennis team will rely on grants for funding. The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), an organization dedicated to creating and supporting athletic opportunities for individuals with physical challenges, recently offered each member of the team $2,000 to aid with equipment and travels.

Idaho Regional Director of CAF, Jennifer Skeesick, described the significance behind adaptive sports and why the foundation chose to help Boise State develop a wheelchair tennis program.

“Many times when we talk to people with disabilities, there’s a feeling of isolation or loneliness – feeling like they don’t fit into a community,” Skeesick said. “So, if we can find that community in sports, truly, that’s where a lot of people find their identity and self-esteem… Boise State students deserve all that and more.”

With the funding provided by CAF, Corbett is able to take his team to Orlando, Fla. for the National Championships in April of this year. Alongside him will be athlete Eugene Sanders, who will be transferring to Boise State from CWI in Fall 2020.

Sanders began playing tennis five years ago when he met Corbett through wheelchair basketball and, according to Corbett, his talent has developed immensely. 

Now, Sanders is regarded as a top competitor for the Broncos and is grateful for the effort of those working to accommodate athletes with disabilities like his own.

“It makes me excited. It makes me feel like it’s being taken seriously,” Sanders said. “It’s a huge deal and it’s great to have BSU’s support.”

Meanwhile, in preparation for the championship, Corbett will continue training the team and scouting for potential athletes. There are two positions open on the team, specifically to beginners looking to experiment and increase their physical activity.

As wheelchair tennis and basketball continue to plant a stronger foothold on campus, an array of other adaptive sports are expected to follow. Resulting from such programs will be much-needed support for disabled students at Boise State. 

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