COLORADO SPRINGS - The 2019 NWBA Hall of Fame class has been announced by the NWBA Hall of Fame Committee. The 2019 inductees are a group of eight individuals, who made their name staples in the wheelchair basketball community. This year’s inductees include:
-Jamie Danskin, of Hermosa Beach, Cal.
-Doug Garner, of Arlington, Tex.
-Melvin Juette, of Chicago, Ill.
-Larry Labiak, of Chicago, Ill.
-Jimmy May, of Midlothian, Vir.
-Christina Ripp-Schwab, of Dane, Wis.
-Bruce Russell, of Cambridge, Ont.
-Mike Woodard, of Duluth, Geo.
The 2019 class is the largest class since the seven-person class inducted in 2005. Some of these names are long overdue, including Paralympians Jamie Danksin, Christina Ripp-Schwabb, and Melvin Juette. This year’s class also features a few mavericks who shaped the game as we know it today, like iconic referee Larry Labiak and long-time Junior Division Commissioner Doug Garner.
The NWBA Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony is set for Saturday, March 23 at the Holiday Inn-Akron West at 7:00 p.m., where NWBA Hall of Fame Chairperson Frank Burns will oversee the celebration. The Hall of Fame inductions will been held in conjunction with the Toyota National Championship Series, and this year celebrates 70 seasons of greatness in our sport.
Those closest to Danskin know her to be a fierce rival, dedicated teammate and builder of the sport. On the court, Danskin led her teams at both ends of the court. When needed, she made the tough shot, shut down our biggest threat, dove for every loose ball and rallied her teammates to battle. Danskin’s style of play, exceptional skill, and commitment to team play changed the game. Danskin dominated in the NWBA and internationally, winning seven NWWBT National Championships, two Paralympic medals (silver in 92 & bronze in ‘96 ), six Canadian WBT National Championships, and 2 silver medals at the World Championships. Her talents even translated into world championships in snooker and tennis, an Offensive MVP in the Blister Bowl (Football).
Danskin's athletic skills and accomplishments alone justify her induction into the Hall. However, it is her commitment to seeking out and building opportunities for others to play that continues to define her legacy.
Danskin founded the LA Sparks, the first NWBA team affiliated with a WNBA team, and the Daniel Freeman Hospital wheelchair sports program. She’s served on the NWBA Women’s Division Executive Committee and her efforts created the Intercontinental Cup Women’s Wheelchair Basketball tournament.
A mastermind behind the scenes, Doug Garner revolutionized the NWBA’s Junior Division. At the time Gardner became commissioner, Junior teams were averaging about ten games a year. Garner changed the that, instituting conferences, conference championships, and a mandatory minimum of games played to qualify for the national tournament.
During Garner’s 18-year tenure, he went on to double the number of junior teams, initiate the Varsity Banquet, implement the top 32 ranking system, create the NIT and Prep Championships; started the All-Girl tournament team, establish the college transition meeting, and then installed the first Senior Showcase game.
Garner’s love for improving the game extends outside his NWBA contributions. He’s been a Technical Official for the IWBF for over a decade and won a National Championship as head coach in the Prep, Varsity, and Intercollegiate level.
With Garner’s guidance, the Junior Division progressed from the weakest to the largest and strongest division in the NWBA.
Melvin Juette is a true success story of the impact wheelchair sports can have on one’s life. At the age 16 years old, Melvin was shot in the back and paralyzed. This is the day that Melvin defines in his book, Wheelchair Warrior, as, “the worst and the best thing that has ever happened to [him]”.
Juette’s affiliation with the NWBA has spanned over 30 years and in virtually every aspect of the game; from junior basketball with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago Dawgs to the pinnacle of representing the United States of America as a player, and most recently as a coach.
He would go on to represent Team USA as a player for nearly a decade. During his long career on the US National team, he never took his selections for granted and was one of the hardest working guys on the court. The three-time bronze medal-winning Paralympian was a defensive anchor on the U.S. National team and took delight in making life as miserable as possible for the men he guarded. Many times, Juette was assigned to shut down the opposing teams best players. In addition to his Paralympic success, Juette won 2 gold medals, a silver, and a bronze at the IWBF World Championships.
While he was a fierce competitor on the floor, Juette's warm personality, huge smile, and contagious laugh bring a joyful aurora to anyone he meets. Juette has garnered much success on a team and an individual basis on all levels, but his ability to lead and mentor has always been a core component of who he is.
Larry Labiak is one of the game’s true pioneers, as the first NWBA-approbated official to call the game from a wheelchair, something he has done nearly 2000 times over the past 30 NWBA seasons.
He brought a unique aspect to the role of NWBA officials – he had played the game and was able to apply that transcendental experience to his officiating and to share those experiences with others, shaping the careers of many wheelchair basketball officials.
There is also another side to Larry Labiak. Since he had Polio at a very young age, he has a passion for ensuring that youth have the opportunity to play this great game, an opportunity denied him until college because no such opportunities existed for disabled youth of his day. He was very instrumental in the development of Chicago Park District youth and adult wheelchair basketball programs. His impact on youth basketball was very highly regarded in the early years of the Junior Division’s evolution.
The game of wheelchair basketball was created for men like Jimmy May. He began his playing career in 1973, 5 years after being injured in the Vietnam War. He played with the Richmond Charioteers from 1973-1981. In 1981, he founded the Richmond Rimriders and served as a player-coach from 1981-2014. NWBA historians out there know the Richmond wheelchair basketball program is one of the oldest in the United States, beginning as a resolve for wounded veterans returning from World War II. Jim is the last of the original generation of Richmond Charioteers/Rim Riders. Since the first National Veteran’s Wheelchair Games was started in Richmond, May is the only veteran who has attended 37 times out of the 38 years of existence.
Jimmy May played 45 years in the NWBA from 1973-2018. During this time, he earned a reputation as a prime outside shooter as a guard and a competitive tactician as a coach. May would organize and host many tournaments in the Richmond area, led several teams to the NWBA playoffs (going as far as the Final Four in one such appearance), and served as part of multiple NWBA committees.
It may seem ironic for a Vet, but Jimmy May is one of the true unsung heroes of the NWBA.
Christina Ripp-Schwab, the heart and soul of three gold medal-winning Paralympic teams, oozed talent from the start of her career. Ripp-Schwab was a wunderkind in the NWBA Junior Division, and an All-star, Most Improved Player and MVP in the Women’s Division. She won National Championships while at the University of Illinois and in the women’s division. On top of her Paralympic success as a member of Team USA, Ripp-Schwab one gold and three silver medals competing in the IWBF World Championship.
Christina was a rare breed of player that would bring out the very best in her teammates. She was a fiery athlete whose competitive nature was contagious. She could score from the 3-point line in, pass perfectly to set up a teammate or pick to get a teammate open. If rebounding was needed, she would get double-digit rebounds. She could press full court, disrupting an opponent or rotate on defense to help a teammate. In short, Ripp-Schwab would do whatever the team needed in order to achieve their goals and be best they could be on and off the court.
Christina Ripp-Schwab shaped, continues to shape, the future for young women in the sport. While playing as a junior athlete, she was competing at an all-star level against boys before many young girls played junior wheelchair basketball. In college, she was part of the Illinois team that competed in Division 2 of the NWBA against mostly men’s teams and was part of the Illinois women’s team that competed in the men’s college division, paving the way for the current college women’s programs. Even today, as she coaches young women at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, she is shaping women’s wheelchair basketball in the United States.
Russell’s career started in 1976 with the Toronto Thunderbolts, the only wheelchair basketball team in Ontario at the time. The Thunderbolts disbanded 4 years later, but other Canadian teams were born around it, forming the Ontario Conference of the NWBA. Bruce was elected conference commissioner in 1980, serving for a decade. He introduced many innovations to the NWBA in that time, influencing the rules on player transfers, divisional structures, and various constitutional matters. Bruce was the chief architect for creating, editing and rewriting the NWBA Constitution and By-laws for over 20 years.
Russell was an original member of the Ad Hoc Committee to develop the divisional play for the NWBA, helping develop the legislation for Division I & II.
In addition to his NWBA contributions, Russell has been instrumental in developing the sport in
Canada. He played for the Canadian national team from 1986 to 1991, including the 1988 Paralympic games. Bruce paid it forward, evolving from basketball player to one of the NWBA's most influential administrators.
Many NWBA lifers remember Mike Woodard from his days the coach of the University of Kentucky Wheel Kats. Some may recognize him as a staple in the Bluegrass Invitational Tournament. Since the Wheel Kats were the host team of the tournament in Lexington, Woodard felt it was important that he as the coach, and the team as a whole, be involved in supporting and organizing the tournament. Mike was involved in all aspects of the tournament over the years including serving on the organizing committee, soliciting sponsors and donors, recruiting volunteers, fundraising and even working the concession stand. Mike was always willing to do whatever was necessary and was instrumental in the continuing success of the Bluegrass Invitational.
Mike coached the Wheel Kats team for seven years and also became increasingly involved in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. Over the years he has had many leadership and administrative roles with the NWBA and was a founding member of the NWBOA (National Wheelchair Basketball Official’s Association).
After Mike’s involvement in wheelchair basketball transitioned into the role of officiating, he continued to support the Bluegrass tournament, even after leaving the state of Kentucky and has been officiating at the Bluegrass for nearly 20 years. He also continued this dedication to the NWBA and the sport by officiating in Juniors, Women’s, Men’s and Collegiate divisions on the national level and assuming administrative roles with the NWBOA.
The inaugural 2019 Toyota National Championship Series will be held across three states, from March 14 - April 7. There will be a total of 118 teams represented by the NWBA in the Adult, Women's, Intercollegiate and Junior Divisions. The top 16 teams from each of the Adult Divisions (D-I, D-II, and D-III) and Women’s Division will each play in their own respective tournament. The Junior Division will feature the top 16 ranked teams in Varsity and Prep divisions. In total, eight National Championship trophies will be awarded. Varsity will also feature the tnvitational tournament, with 16 teams (ranked 17th to 32nd) rolling for a title.
More information on the 2019 Toyota National Championship Series can be viewed by visiting www.nwba.org/nationals.