Paralympian Darlene Hunter Helps Spread Wheelchair Basketball In NYC Clinic

by Steve Goldberg

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.

Darlene Hunter competes during the preliminary group game against Team China at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 2, 2021 in Tokyo.


Hunter said the youngest participants were 14 years old and the oldest was 44. The experience level varied as well.
“Some had played for years while others were participating for the second or third time,” she said, adding that they wanted to “target that marginalized population that we’re not seeing in sport.”
The camp consisted of four sessions over two days and was free for minority women athletes to participate.
“The girls have all created a chat to keep in touch with each other,” Hunter said. “It’s probably the most diverse group of women we’ve had together at one camp, which was really the purpose of it.”
Hunter said the conversation topics included rehabilitation, the college basketball experience and recruitment process, and combining motherhood with elite competitive sport as Schneider has done, among other things.
Seeing the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center was also added to the camp agenda, providing an underground adventure in traveling from Queens to Manhattan.
“We not only taught basketball, but life skills,” Hunter wrote on her Facebook page, “when we took about 15 wheelchairs and seven walkies to the New York Subway.” 
Hunter noted that the group included adults in their 20s and 30s who live in New York City but had never been on the subway before because they didn’t know they could navigate it.
“When we took them out of their element of having all of the support (of parents and caregivers), we said, ‘Hey, you guys can figure it out,’” Hunter said, adding that the “CUNY girls were really amazing,” in becoming the coaches for that part of the camp experience.
“As much as it is about wheelchair basketball,” Hunter added, “it’s also about finding your spot and your community and seeing what this can do.” 

The chief press officer for the 1996 Atlanta Paralympic Games, Steve Goldberg covered every summer Paralympic Games from Sydney 2000 through Rio 2016 for various newspapers, magazines and online media. He is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.