National Wheelchair Basketball Association

Previous Sports Tour StopReturn to Sports Tour MapNext Sports Tour Stop


Two wheelchair basketball players going for the ball with a referee standing nearby and teammates ready in the background
Wheelchair Basketball game, ca. 1970

Dr. Timothy Nugent, the Father of Accessibility, directed the first program at a university for individuals with disabilities in 1948. One of his most impactful creations was the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, founded in 1949. He presided as president of the association for over 25 years. Dr. Nugent was a Professor of Rehabilitation Education and was the Director of the Rehabilitation Education Center and the Division of Rehabilitation Education Services at the University of Illinois.   

Post World War II, Nugent saw the need to implement programs for those veterans who were wounded at war. Veterans began playing wheelchair basketball in Veterans’ Affairs (VA) hospitals across America starting in 1946. Within two years, 6 teams were created representing various VA hospitals across the U.S. In 1948, the first official National Wheelchair Basketball Tournament was organized by Dr. Timothy Nugent. Wheelchair Basketball quickly became a popular sport among individuals with disabilities. 

Dr. Nugent worked hard to eliminate negative perceptions about people with disabilities and thought organizing a basketball team and tournament could help with this culture change. He also felt that people with disabilities should be encouraged to take part in hobbies and sports they enjoyed. This came from watching his sister being told to give up things she enjoyed as she went blind and seeing how that affected well-being. Dr. Nugent organized the Gizz Kids wheelchair basketball team at the University of Illinois. Nugent had to call the team the Gizz Kids since the university was concerned about the liability of the team and did not want to be responsible for it.

Although originally a male-dominant sport, wheelchair basketball for women emerged in the mid-1960s. By 1968, a U.S. team for women competed alongside U.S. men in the Paralympic Games in Tel Aviv, Israel. 

Women's Wheelchair basketball team in a huddle on sidelines with referee standing in the distance
Ms. Kids Wheelchair Basketball team, ca. 1982

 The first recorded wheelchair basketball game between two organized women’s teams in the U.S. was in 1973 when the University of Illinois Ms. Kids played the Southern Illinois University Squidettes in the Men’s Former Gym, now known as the Kenney Gymnasium,  at the U of I.

 In 1977, a proposal was made and approved to allow for the Women’s Division to join the NWBA. Six teams were initially formed. In 1978 the University of Illinois hosted these six teams to compete in the national tournament. 

The NWBA has gained and attained considerable recognition in the public.  It became an associate member of the US Congress and is currently an active member of U.S.A. Basketball. 

Men's wheelchair basketball team huddled around Dr. Nugent
Gizz Kids (U of I’s men basketball team) huddled around Dr. Nugent, 1955

Beginning as a small vision of Dr. Nugent’s, the NWBA has since grown to over 200 teams. The National Wheelchair Basketball Association has also become global with hundreds of teams from North and South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Currently, the U.S. competes against teams from around the world at the Paralympic Games and the World Championships.

You can still see the men and women’s wheelchair basketball teams play at the University of Illinois. 

 Rehabilitation Education Center. This is where the Disability Resources and Education Center is currently housed. 

Kenney Gymnasium. This is where the Ms. Kids played the Squidettes.


Please see the DRES website for the most current schedules for men and women wheelchair basketballs games.

Gizz Kids and Timothy J Nugent. (1955). Division of Rehabilitation Education Services Photograph File, 1950-2002. Record Series 16/6/11, Box 5, Folder 50th Jubilee – Photographs. University of Illinois Archives.

Illinois Public Media (2013, Oct 16). Illinois Pioneers with Dr. Tim Nugent – October 3, 2013 [Video File]. Retrieved from

Ms. Kids Wheelchair Basketball Team. (1982). Division of Rehabilitation Education Services Photograph File, 1950-2002. Record Series 16/6/11, Box 5, Folder 50th Jubilee – Photographs. University of Illinois Archives.

National Wheelchair Basketball Association. (2019). History of Wheelchair Basketball and NWBA. Retrieved from

University of Illinois Archives (n.d.) Nugent, Timothy J. (1923-). Retrieved from

Wheelchair Basketball – IMPE. (1970). Photographic Subject File 1868-. Record series 39/2/20, Folder BUI IMPE. University of Illinois Archives.

Contributors: Maggie McNaughton