Derek Brown is the head coach of the UA men's and women's wheelchair basketball teams and has been coaching for the adaptive athletics program for more than eight years. Formerly the coach of the wheelchair track and road-racing team, Brown now coaches only basketball and led the women's team to place second in the nation this season. The teams recently played in the 22nd annual Lame for a Game event with the UA men's and women's (non-wheelchair) basketball teams. UA's adaptive athletics program supports quad rugby, weight training and conditioning, goalball and a wheelchair sports program for kids in the community. Their next event is the Jim Click Run 'n' Roll, an 8-kilometer race--by foot or wheelchair--on Sept. 25. For more information, call the race hotline at 326-9383 or visit http://drc.arizona.edu/athletics.
How did you initially get involved in wheelchair sports?
I started track at age 15, and from the moment I started, I became addicted. I won a number of national titles. Then I participated in racing at the University of Illinois. They called me the Pony Express. I also coached junior basketball teams.
What are the benefits of exercise for a person who is disabled?
It definitely helps physically, because they are active. Mentally, it helps them just as it helps any person. Being in a sport, you develop discipline, work ethic and confidence. I think those are important traits that make you a successful person later in life.
Did it help you?
Definitely. Sports in general gave me the confidence to get out there and feel good about myself. When I first started speaking publicly, it definitely helped me when I had my racing chair or my basketball chair next to me. It was always a crutch. I would go to classrooms and assemblies and talk about sports. It gave me the confidence to speak, and now I can do that without those physical elements there.
How did you end up at the UA?
They decided to start a track and road-racing team here in 1997. I came (to Tucson) to be an intern for KVOA, but I was actually out here to feel out the area. They opened a position (for head track and road racing) coach, and I got it.
How did you transition from track to basketball?
From 1997 to 2000, I was coaching (only) track. In 2000, we took track and tennis players and started our first basketball team. I started coaching the women's team. (The men's team) started as a mix of the students and people from the community. I've always wanted to see it develop into a more collegiate structure. Last year, the men's coach resigned at the end of the season. I accepted the position as both the men's and women's head coach.
How is the women's team doing?
We finished second last year. We keep progressing two places (nationally) every year. Next year, (we've) gotta be No. 1.
And the men's team?
This year, the men finished fifth in the nation. For disabled sports, men's basketball is the most popular in the world.
Tell me about the possible student fee for the adaptive athletics program.
For our operation costs, we get no money from the school. Our scholarships and operational expenses are paid for by fundraising dollars. We were hoping to get help from the students, and the discussion was 75 cents per semester.
Do you ever play basketball yourself?
Yeah. I play for a community team. It's a good relief to not worry about coaching. You just get out there and play.
What's the best part about coaching?
When you see things that you taught actually implemented by the players. The players add a lot to my experience and to my life as well. I enjoy teaching.
Do you keep in touch with them after they graduate?
I do. We've has some fairly successful people who've graduated from the program. It makes me proud.
What's the biggest challenge you face as a coach?
Recruiting. ... In able-bodied sports, all the scholarships are at the same level--a free ride. In disabled sports, you don't have as much scholarship money. You're competing in dollar amounts with other schools.
Do you have any future plans for the adaptive athletics program?
I would just like it to continue growing and to see more disabled students at the university.
Do you prefer track or basketball?
Definitely basketball. It's rewarding to see the team aspect of it. I'm in love with the game. Track and I have gotten a divorce.