When Doug Garner talks about the adaptive sports program at the University of Texas at Arlington, one of the last things he mentions is that the UTA Movin’ Mavs win a lot of games. A LOT of games. In 2021, the Movin’ Mavs won their 9th (yes, ninth) National Wheelchair Basketball Association championship, handily defeating Alabama for the title.
Instead of focusing on titles, what Doug really wants you to know is how adaptive sports changes lives: your life, as well as the lives of the athletes.
“When people come to a Movin’ Mavs game for the first time, their perceptions of people in wheelchairs shift,” said Doug, who is the Assistant Director of Campus Recreation Adapted Sports and Recreation and Head Wheelchair Basketball Coach at UTA. “Their entire belief system changes.”
This is one big reason Doug is so excited for UT Arlington to host the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament (NIWBT) next weekend, March 17-19. He wants more people to see and to understand. And get blown away.
“We’re excited to get people out to see these intercollegiate athletes compete at the highest levels,” said Doug.
Every member of the Movin’ Mavs and Lady Movin’ Mavs brings their A-game, but as a fan in the stands, you might keep your eye on Clarence ‘CJ’ McCarthy-Grogan, a fifth-year senior from Australia. CJ was named 2021 Sportsperson of the Year by the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC). NAIDOC is an organization that strives to celebrate and honor the history, culture and achievements of Indigenous Australian communities such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
CJ isn’t the only highly-recruited international athlete on UTA’s current Movin' Mavs roster. Three women on the 12-person Lady Mavs team are international students, as are three of the men on the 14-person Movin’ Mavs team. Two Movin' Mavs Canadian superstars -- Elodie Tessier and Vincent Dallaire -- played for their respective teams at the Beijing Paralypics, and Zoe Voris played for Team USA. Multiple Movin' Mavs alumni also competed at Beijing.
While excellence runs through every team competing in the 2022 NIWBT, Doug tells us to especially watch out for the highly-competitive Auburn and Alabama. Also teams to keep an eye on are Illinois and Whitewater, which were part of the earliest days of collegiate wheelchair basketball.
As was UTA, of course.
The UTA Movin' Mavs were founded in 1976 by Jim Hayes, not to play championship basketball but to get disabled students “out of their rut.” Thirty years later, when the 58-year-old founder and longtime coach of the program passed away, his legacy was palpable. By the mid-2000s, the Movin’ Mavs were boasting a .750 winning percentage, had seven national titles, and produced 20 Paralympians. Most important to Jim, almost all of his players graduated, got jobs, and became productive citizens and proud UTA alumni.
That legacy is still alive today. Doug was quick to brag about Angelina (Nina) Welfle, former Lady Movin’ Mavs player, who is the program’s most recent alumnus/a to land a great job. Nina first interned and is now working full-time with Spec Services LLC, an architectural spec services company.
By promoting sports as a vehicle to education and independence, participation in the Adaptive Sports program at UTA has helped hundreds of students gain the skills and confidence to succeed in their personal, academic, athletic and professional lives.
“Coach Garner motivated me to go back to school,” said John Watson, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UTA and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Kansas. “I’m eternally grateful to him, to the Movin’ Mavs program, and to The University of Texas at Arlington for setting me on the path to success.”
For his efforts to level the playing field for this underserved demographic, the Dallas Business Journal named Doug a recipient of its 2021 Leaders in Diversity Award in the “Champion for People with Disabilities” category. Garner was also inducted into the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Hall of Fame in 2019 and was one of nine people named a “Champion of Change: Disability Advocate” by the White House in 2015 for his work to increase sport and recreation opportunities for students with disabilities.
But what he really wants is to get you to a game. One game, and you'll be a fan for life.
Mark Your Calendar! NIWBT 2022
Let’s go, Mavs! The National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament is coming to Arlington, specifically to the UTA College Park Center in Downtown. Tournament play is scheduled for Thursday-Saturday March 17-19, 2022. All events are free, and no tickets are required.
Final rankings for the 2022 National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament will be released next week. For a complete schedule of events and final rankings, visit the Movin’ Mavs Adaptive Sports Program website.
Image from Tournament host Facebook page.