January marks the beginning of my first full year as the Executive Director of the NWBA. I began this journey last summer when I was approached by Board of Director leadership Sarah Castle and Bruce Fischbach, an old friend from my college days at Nebraska, to see if I had an interest in the NWBA and this position. I really didn’t know much about the NWBA other than the elite games that I had watched in the Paralympics when I was the CEO of the U.S. Olympic Committee where the skill and competitiveness of the athletes was most impressive. It has been a very interesting first few months and I am looking forward to the many challenges ahead of us. I wish to thank all of you for the warm welcome that I have received thus far.
I would like to share with you what I believe to be the current state of the NWBA and our priorities as an association for the coming year. There are a large number of strengths the association possesses that can be built upon for the future:
• High Performance – Both the Men and Women’s National Teams won gold medals at the Parapan Games in Toronto last August and are on track for podium finishes in the Paralympic Games in Rio this summer. There are great athletes in the program, strong support staff and coaches in place, and a good feeder system.
• The NWBA is the oldest and largest of all the Paralympic sport organizations.
o The NWBA National Tournament is the largest disabled single-sport event in the world with nearly 90 teams and over 1,000 athletes.
o Wheelchair Basketball participation has increased to 42 states, up four from 2014.
o A 10% increase over the prior year for registered teams for the 2015-16 season, and boasts more than 3,100 registered members.
o Relaunched website has witnessed 73,000 page views with 54,000 unique visitors since September.
o Our social network reach has increased to over 13,000 followers collectively, an increase of 30% since August last year.
• The collegiate programs are very competitive and serve as a strong development pool for emerging elite athletes and coaches development. The availability of collegiate scholarships with good programs and high visibility for wheelchair basketball is a significant benefit.
• The NWBA has a strong core group of passionate volunteers and members who give of themselves to run our programming.
• There is strong leadership at the Board level, including a very successful two-sport Paralympic medalist as Board President.
• The NWBA receives strong support from the U.S. Olympic Committee and U.S. Paralympics
• Operation Rebound has great potential through the introduction of wheelchair basketball to disabled veterans providing both rehabilitation as well as the opportunity to join its high performance athlete pools.
• The NWBA mission encompasses an extremely strong cause that rallies support for its programming.
The organization does, however, face some very strong challenges. The organization has been in a state of change with staff turnover and a good deal of confusion over direction this past year.
The organization has been plagued by some poor business practices that open the NWBA up to potential risks and have reduced its ability to be as effective as it could be.
The financial resources that have been generated have not been sufficient for the NWBA to fulfill its mission and the organization has had a practice of spending more money that it has been bringing in. The NWBA financial reserves are still sufficient but since July of 2011 through August of this past year, the organization spent $542,000 more than it brought in. This is a trend that we will reverse in 2016; the organization cannot continue to overspend and maintain its reserves and financial viability for the future.
The board has just approved the NWBA’s budget for 2016 with the key principle that the organization will bring in more revenue that it spends. Key strategic priorities for 2016:
1) Grow revenue streams available to the organization
2) Improve event management and development
3) Achieve podium finishes in Rio for Men and Women’s Paralympic teams
4) Strengthen the NWBA through Organizational Development
5) Create more value for members through increased programming
6) Build more effective communication and public relations
7) Develop more effective relationship with key organizations including the NBA, USA Basketball, the USOC, and the military and veteran affairs
In my short time here I have become a believer in the power of the fulfillment of the mission of the NWBA and its ability to impact the lives of the individuals involved in the sport and inspire our country with what our athletes do on the field of play. I would like to share a couple of stories that have inspired me.
Will Waller – I was able to meet Will during the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games Men’s Wheelchair Basketball Selection Camp in Colorado Springs. Wheelchair basketball saved Will literally and ultimately provided a path in life that is the epitome of a success story.
Will is originally from inner city Chicago and walked a less than favorable lifestyle as a teen and was shot in the back and paralyzed. He suffered from depression for two years and was then introduced to wheelchair basketball. He was able to attend the University of Illinois where his athletic career exploded and at the same time he obtained his undergraduate and masters degrees. He played for Team USA on several World Championship squads and the 2000 U.S. Paralympic Team. He stepped away from the National Team for about seven years while serving several major corporations as a human resources professional and then earned a bronze medal with the 2012 Paralympic team. He is currently the Vice President of Human Resources for Goodyear Rubber Company. Today, he is in line to possibly earn a position on the 2016 U.S. Paralympic Team, for the third time in his career.
Abby Farrell – Is an age-group athlete I happen to know from the Colorado Springs area. I have been fortunate to know and watch her grow up over the years. Abby was diagnosed with Spina Bifida and the positive effects that adaptive sports has played into Abby’s life has been remarkable. She loves to play basketball and has been a member of the Denver Rolling Nuggets program for the last four years. I asked Abby to write a paragraph about the importance of Wheelchair Basketball to her.
From Abby Farrell: “Playing wheelchair basketball has made such a huge impact on my life. I have met so many amazing people and I have made so many friends from around the country. Wheelchair basketball has also been a great way for me to become active and stay healthy. But basketball has also made an impact on my life outside of the basketball court. It has taught me discipline, teamwork, and it motivates me to do well in school. Since I started playing basketball it has been a passion of mine and I wouldn’t trade the experiences that basketball has given me for anything.”
These are just two examples of the impressive impact wheelchair basketball has in the lives of the NWBA athletes. I have been driven in my professional career to try to make a difference in the lives of athletes and through the impact and inspiration of those athletes make our communities, country, and world a better place. I am tremendously appreciative of the the opportunity to serve as the Executive Director of the NWBA. The organization has great potential and a proud history on which to build and I look forward to this journey with you.