Darlene Hunter, a 2012 U.S. Paralympian, is the current co-captain of the 2015 U.S. Parapan Am Games team that defeated Canada for the gold medal, 80-72. She is one of the veterans of the team and plays an instrumental role in mentoring the younger team members to help them take their game to the next level. Hunter has her sights set on a gold medal at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.
Name: Darlene Hunter
Place of birth: Southfield, Mich.
Hometown: Commerce Township, Mich.
Date of Birth: April 16, 1982
Residence: Arlington, Texas
High School: Lake Western High School, Walled Lake, Mich.
College: University of Arizona ’04, Psychology
Post Graduate: University of Texas ’06 Masters in Social Work
Texas Women’s University ’09, PhD. In Family Studies
Personal facts: Donald Hunter and Julie Sisko are Darlene’s parents. She has one brother, Scott, who is 4 years younger.
2012 Paralympic Games – 4th place
2015 Parapan American Games, gold medal
2011 Parapan American Games, gold medal
2010 IWBF World Championship, gold medal
NWBA: Who is your hero?
Darlene: My family. My parents and my brother had to give up a lot. My mom and dad worked 40-plus hour jobs and then they had to get us to games. Financially and emotionally they invested a lot in me. They have always been there for me.
NWBA: When did you start playing wheelchair basketball?
Darlene: In college in 2000.
NWBA: Did you play any other sports? Did you receive any awards from other sports?
Darlene: In track I made the 1999 and 2001 World Championship team and we competed in New Zealand. I remember it was snowing on the track.
In Lille, France the race was on cobblestone. I was the youngest to compete in the Peachtree, (Ga.) and Bloomsday (Wash.) races. I stopped racing in 2001. I was top 5 in the world for classification.
Then I turned to indoor sports. I used to race in 110 degree weather in Arizona.
Track was an individual sport. In basketball you are part of a team. Your team picks you up. They have your back. You know they will be there for you. Someone is there to help you through it. In a marathon you have to talk yourself through it. It was a great learning experience and taught me what your body is capable of.
NWBA: What is your profession?
Darlene: I work for a company called HCB Digital. We build curriculum and conduct trainings for schools. We build online courses, do contract work and facilitate online courses for our clients. I am also the Regional Coordinator for Veterans and Community programs at Texas Regional Paralympic Sport.
NWBA: What are your volunteer positions?
Darlene: I am the Chair of the Women’s Division of the NWBA and I coach the Dallas Jr. Wheelchair Team (blue team) in the Varsity Division.
NWBA: Do you have any pre-game rituals or superstitions?
Darlene: Everyone gets quiet. I listen to a playlist I create which is new every season depending on what songs come out and how the team feels. I am not one of those players that has to isolate myself. I feed off of everyone. I like to talk. I take a deep breath and go through the line. I don’t try to overthink it.
NWBA: What is it like coaching a Junior team?
Darlene: In coaching the Dallas Jr. Wheelchair Team (blue team), we test the kids similar to the way USA basketball does it breaking it down by skills.
I believe the Courage Center in Minnesota does this too. We try to be as fair as possible. Having the kids take these tests prepares them so they know what is coming at them as they advance in their wheelchair basketball careers. Jermell Pennie is the coach for the white team. Both teams have Paralympians coaching them. UTA men and women’s teams support the teams. They are able to use their facilities for tournaments. It’s great.
NWBA: What is your favorite basketball moment and why?
Darlene: My favorite was in crossovers against China at the Paralympics in 2012. We went into three overtimes to win it. It showed the heart of our team. We were really young and didn’t have a lot of experience with international ball. Everyone had to come in and play that game. We stepped up and showed the heart and grit of the team. The fans in the stands went wild. It was such a fun experience. It was a great team win. (Note: Team USA won by a final score of 68-65, and finished fourth at the 2012 Paralympic Games.)
NWBA: Why do you play wheelchair basketball?
Darlene: It’s fun, the teammates, now as I am older and coming to the end of my national team experience. It’s great to mentor the new generation, and to see where we are moving. The women are growing and becoming stronger. It has been emotionally supportive in good and bad times. The sport never disappoints.
NWBA: Do you have any pets, if so, type and names?
Darlene: Tyson, an English bulldog, and Belle, who is a mixed breed.
NWBA: How do you plan on celebrating the holidays?
Darlene: I will be in Michigan in the snow and ice for Christmas with my dad’s side of the family.