Wheelchair Basketball Quilt
One challenge that has always been a popular debate is the inclusion of people with disabilities, whether it be in classes or extracurricular activities. Many colleges and universities have been constantly improving accessibility and inclusivity for staff and students with disabilities (Shakespeare). One of these institutions is Fitchburg State University (previously College) located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. There have been various events put on by Fitchburg State University allowing people with disabilities to play sports, just as able-bodied people do. The idea of wheelchair basketball games is thanks to Paul Mushrush, the founder of wheelchair basketball games.
Mushrush lived an average able-bodied life until he was involved in an accident where he became wheelchair bound. Since then, he has been an inspiration to many, and is the inspiration of this large, wheelchair basketball-themed quilt made in 2004. The back of the quilt has a bright and colorful tie-dye fabric, representing Mushrush’s hippie-like lifestyle. The front of this quilt has a few different images of events relating to wheelchair basketball. In the upper left corner of the quilt, there is the initials “F.S.C.” because at the time Fitchburg State University was Fitchburg State College. There is also a soccer patch on this piece of fabric because Musrush had a successful soccer career before he was involved in the accident. Another piece of fabric containing words is on the bottom of the quilt. This white square says “Phish Phamily” in pink and orange letters. This was in reference to the band Phish who was a favorite of Mushrush. This band started back in 1983 and continued to play on tours through 2002. Phish took some time off from touring in the beginning 1999 to work on various projects. Their performances were quite unique, and no two concerts were the same, unlike many other artists at the time ("The Band"). Mushrush enjoyed this more free-spirited music, which is why he felt the need to include this band on the quilt.
The rest of the quilt is full of vibrant, artistic pieces of fabric. These patches include buttons, stickers, drawings of nature, handprints, and even signatures of those working on the quilt. The patch of fabric with signatures is also full of hearts, smiley faces, and the words “FSC 2004,” when this quilt was put together. Overall, this quilt represents the happiness and joy that wheelchair basketball brings and provides hope to people with disabilities that have an interest in playing sports.
Mushrush, a college student, was an influential activist for inclusivity in sports. Being in a wheelchair himself, Mushrush advocated for all people with disabilities by creating this idea of a regular sport that could be played by people of all abilities and strengths. In 2004, Mushrush attended an event hosted by the Fitchburg State College library in the Hammond building. This function gathered various clubs both on and off campus that publicized their organizations to try to gain members. There are some images of Mushrush from this event standing at his table. His poster, titled “Celebrating Everyone’s Differences,” stands tall over the wheelchair basketball quilt that is being used as a tablecloth. One of the wheelchair basketball games is even being advertised on a t-shirt from the event, draped over Mushrush’s wheelchair. His presence along with the colorful display of his set-up offered a warm welcome to those at the club fair and invited them to learn a little more about disabilities.
Furthermore, on Disability Awareness Day, Project Enable and the Cogito Ergo Sum (C.E.S.) Society, both advocates for educating the public, worked together to inform Fitchburg State College students about disabilities. They thought a basketball game would be the perfect way to spread awareness about the topic, since more and more individuals with disabilities are attending college. Some able-bodied students were challenged to "acquire" a disability for the day with a simulation of what daily life might be like for wheelchair users, people with visual or hearing impairments, or more. Due to this event, $700 was raised for the Garret Conrad Scholarship. This yearly scholarship is in memory of Garret Conrad, who unfortunately passed away in 1993. The scholarship fund is awarded to a student attending Fitchburg State with a disability because Conrad lost all four limbs in an accident in 1986. This organization also provided information on job hunting and leadership positions for people with a disability (Miller). Overall, this event was a life-changing experience for everyone involved and was a very beneficial gathering.
Another interesting event that occured at Fitchburg State was a movie screening of Kiss My Wheels, followed by a panel discussion. This took place in a lecture hall in the Hammond building and was open to all students. The film is about the hard work and dedication put forth by a junior wheelchair basketball team that was ranked nationally. Though young in age, these adolescents worked as a team to play well during practices and games as they simultaneously learned the importance of friendship and partnership. The movie then led the audience to a panel discussion put on by the director of the Recreation Center, Fitchburg State Athletes, and a moderator who was also a professor from the English department. This film provided students with and without disabilities to truly see the challenges that were overcome by the young, inspiring athletes throughout the movie.
Overall, the awareness of inclusivity in sports has greatly increased over the past few decades. A lot of this can be credited to Mushrush who really kicked off this whole idea of wheelchair basketball and inclusive sports in general. He also taught people with a disability to express what makes them diverse rather than to be ashamed of it. Due to this wheelchair basketball quilt, people are able to learn the history of wheelchair basketball and why it was, and still is, such an influential sport. Fitchburg State also had a lot to do with spreading awareness of disabilities. Without many of these events, college students would not have been exposed to what living with a disability might be like. It is important to know the history behind why we study disability, what influenced the spread of awareness, and what we can do in the future to be more mindful of people with disabilities.
“The Band.” Phish, phish.com/band/.
Miller, Norman. “College Brings Disability Awareness to the Basketball Court.” Sentinel and Enterprise, 7 Apr. 1994.
Shakespeare, Tom. Disability: the Basics. Routledge, 2018.