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Wheelchair Basketball Group Looks To Build On Nugent’s Vision

2012 photo of Paralympian and NWBA president Sarah Castle

2012 photo of Paralympian and NWBA president Sarah Castle University of Missouri at Kansas City

Since the death of accessibility pioneer Tim Nugent on Wednesday, remembrances have been pouring in. Known as the “Faither of Accessibility”, Nugent helped make handicapped-accessible bus routes and other amenities the norm at the University of Illinois, and across the country.  Nugent was also an advocate for wheelchair athletics, and was the founder of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

University of Illinois wheelchair athlete and graduate Sarah Castle is president of the organization.  The 2008 U of I graduate and paralympic athlete said Nugent always showed her to look for what organizations like hers are not only giving back to people with disabilities, but also to society.

"What role are we playing to advance the belief that people with disablities become contributing members to society, and should have access to all different programming and employment?," she said.  "And what are we doing to better the lives of veterans returning home, or kids who are born with disabilites or any individual who acquires a disability at some point in their life?"

The NWBA was founded by Nugent in 1949.  Castle says recognition of the sport and organization has grown a great deal even in her nearly 20 years' involvement.  She jokes that those who watch wheelchair basketball won't want to watch able-bodied players participate in the sport.

"There's a heightened level of strategy," she said.  "There's all these different components with classification, and points on the floor, and things we don't consider different in a sport without disabilities.  We are gaining access to more college programs, more junior programs, more adult programs.  We're trying to make the sport better for those that come after me."

(Pictured: Australia's Kylie Gauci, right, throws the ball near Unites States' Sarah Castle in a a semi-final match of the Women's wheelchair basketball  at the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games held in Beijing, China, Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008Ng Han Guan/AP)

Castle, now an attorney in Kansas City, achieved a lot before retiring as an athlete.  She's used a wheelchair since age 11, and was a swimmer and basketball player in four years' competition at the Paralympic Games

Castle says Nugent came to speak to an NWBA assembly last year, including members from every team. 

"His passion and his love for the game, but also his desire for the well-being of every athlete within the organization was completely apparent," she said.  "He literally just took the room.  It was pretty amazing."

Funeral arrangments for Tim Nugent have been announced.  Visitation will be from 9-11 a.m. at Savoy United Methodist Church, with the memorial service to immediately follow.  The Morgan Memorial Home in Savoy is in charge of arrangements.