Keeping Girls Involved

NWBA is making a push to keep girls involved in basketball

NWBA is making a push to keep girls involved in basketball

Former National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) CEO and U.S. Paralympic women’s wheelchair basketball player Darlene Hunter wants female players to stick around longer.

Statistics, including those from the Women’s Sports Foundation’s “The Healing Power of Sport” released in February, show that females are leaving sports earlier and at higher rates.

So, she’s spearheaded a mission, that includes hosting a Junior Girls game exhibition Saturday afternoon at the NWBA Junior Wheelchair Basketball Championships at Wichita Hoops in Bel Aire, Kan. It marked the second straight year for the event, which gives female players of all ages to play with one another and have more of a role than they would on their junior mixed-gender teams.

“With the junior girls, if you look at statistics in general of able-bodied and wheelchair, it doesn’t matter if you’re disabled or able-bodied, girls leave sport at high school. Like, so we have this gap where they don’t really go to high school. And then after high school, they don’t play anymore in college. So, and then in our league, because we don’t have a separate Junior women and like adults, or junior males, they play together. So. a lot of times they don’t get to pass the ball or touch the ball. They’re there, used as a picker or stealer. And, so, it’s the one opportunity that they all get to play together and really see how strong they are. And we’ve seen that over the years of doing it, they stay in the league longer, they’re going to college, and then you know, have a pipeline for women’s Team USA. And so it’s just a really fun thing.”

Around 45 female wheelchair basketball players participated in the Junior Girls Game on Court 11 Saturday, with females of all ages competing in a 50-minute running-clock game with regulation-sized hoops.Team Dark Jersey defeated Team Light Jersey, 36-28, in the girls exhibition game. They played their game while boys players had a Boys Senior Showcase game, with the Team Dark Jersey winning 34-21 over Team Light Jersey.

Both girls Junior teams had over 20 players, so coaches subbed in players in groups of five —similar to line changes in hockey. Each unit played 5-6 minutes before teams both substituted new groups at the same time.

Dallas Wheelchair Junior Mavericks’ Abigail Counts, 54, plays during the NWBBA Junior Girls Showcase Game at the 2023 NWBA Junior Wheelchair Basketball Championships. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).


One player that included was Dallas Junior Mavericks Blue wheelchair basketball player Abigail Counts. She’s participated in these events before, but she acknowledged this one was especially nice. The Junior Mavericks Blue had just one game Saturday morning and she had the rest of the day free. So, Counts decided to play.

In fact, she even played for both teams to help let some other female players form full senior lineups for both teams at the end. She loves little events like that during tournaments.

“But it’s nice to compete against just the women because it’s something new. And it’s exciting to play between teams,” Counts says. “Because, you know, you see the people on the other team that you’re playing against. But then you get to play on the same team as them and like work together. It’s fun to get to meet each other, be teammates for once.”

Hunter has worked to help give females more opportunities, especially within the Junior community. This past December, the NWBA held a camp in New York where players later created a group text message thread.

“Now, there’s like support systems through the whole year,” Hunter says. “So, it’s like this proponent to just keep trying to create these relationships and support within the league.”

It’s definitely provided that for Mary Free Bed Junior Pacers player Ginessa Aguirre.

Mary Free Bed Junior Pacers’ Ginessa Aguirre ,21, plays during the NWBBA Junior Girls Showcase Game at the 2023 NWBA Junior Wheelchair Basketball Championships. (Photo by Christopher Di Virgilio).


A 15-year-old Hartford, Mich., resident, she’s played wheelchair basketball for the past eight years and participated in the NWBA Junior Championships and Junior Girls game each of the past two years. Aguirre, who sustained a T12 spinal-cord injury as a passenger in a car crash when she was three years old, likes to play defense, but in the Junior Girls game, she gets more opportunities to get the ball and improve her dribbling and passing skills. She meets more people and it makes her feel more included.

“Because on a coed team, you kind of get like pushed back and the boys usually control,” Aguirre says. “But on the women’s team, you get to do almost anything on there.”

Counts agrees.

A 17-year-old high school senior and Flower Mound, Texas, resident, Counts signed with the University of Illinois this past December and plans on playing wheelchair basketball there in the upcoming fall. She likes meeting other female players, too.

“I really enjoyed getting to see the people that I’ve met at camps before and it’s good to see them again and talk and play together,” Counts says.

Semifinal Showdowns

As for Saturday’s Junior tournament semifinals, the top two seeds will meet in the Junior Varsity championship, while the Prep Division had an upset.

In the Varsity Division, top-seeded Lakeshore and No. 2 seed Kansas City Kings A will meet in Sunday’s Noon championship. Lakeshore defeated No. 4 seed Charlotte Rollin’ Hornets Purple 51-43, while the Kansas City Kings A defeated the No. 3 seed Bennett Blazers, 58-45.

In the Prep Division, the No. 4 seed LWRSA Hawks and No. 2 seed Roger C. Peace Rollin’ Tigers advanced to Sunday’s 10 a.m. final. The Hawks upset the No. 1 seed Kansas City Kings, 34-31, while the Rollin’ Tigers knocked off the No. 5 seed New York Rolling Fury, 35-22.

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