Darlene Hunter poses after the bronze-medal game against Team Germany at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 4, 2021 in Tokyo.
The 20 women who came out to the National Wheelchair Basketball Association camp this past weekend in New York City not only got a crash course in the popular Paralympic sport, but they also “built a sisterhood,” said Darlene Hunter, the three-time Paralympian who led the camp.
Hunter, who won Paralympic gold in 2016 and bronze in 2020, is a star both on the court and off.
Earlier this month she accepted the role of the NWBA’s interim executive director and CEO, which meant resigning her position as president. Meanwhile, while not on the court or running the NWBA, she’s an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, home to one of the nation’s elite collegiate wheelchair basketball programs for both women and men.
That experience made her an ideal fit to run the first-ever NWBA women’s camp in country’s largest city. The camp was funded through a grant Hunter received from the Team USA Service & Hope Award in partnership with Comcast, which recognizes athletes “for their commitment to serving and bettering their communities through nonprofit work.”
Hunter was one of four athletes — one Olympian, one Olympic hopeful and two Paralympians — to receive the inaugural award, which is given out through a partnership between the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Foundation and Comcast.
Hunter’s grant proposal was focused on broadening the opportunity of wheelchair basketball to those who may not have been aware of the game and those communities underserved by it.
“I think we could count on one hand how many African American women have represented Team USA at the Paralympics in wheelchair basketball. Same for Hispanics,” said Hunter, who has a master’s degree in social work and a PhD in family studies. “We are obviously missing a population that we want to serve.”
Geography and age are also factors. That’s why this camp was held on the Queens campus of City University of New York, which has recently started a collegiate wheelchair basketball program led by Ryan Martin, the university’s director of inclusive and adaptive sports. He worked the camp along with Hunter’s Paralympic teammate Natalie Schneider and Lauren Perry from the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama.
While wheelchair basketball is a truly integrated sport where women and girls commonly play on teams with men and boys at all age and competitive NWBA levels, there is currently no women’s division team in the New York City area. The recent camp was focused on showing camp attendees a path that’s different from co-ed teams.
“We wanted to target this area to establish awareness and education, and to try to build more opportunities for women to compete in wheelchair basketball,” Hunter said.