Wheelchair basketball at U-M

Full-Court Press

Winter 2019
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Feranmi Okanlami (M.D. 2011) played basketball with his 7-year-old son recently. Just a small, sweet moment between a father and son — or that’s what it would have been, if it weren’t something so much bigger.

Okanlami, paralyzed from the chest down during a 2013 pool accident, has regained some mobility and function since then, but still uses a wheelchair most of the time. So sharing some moments on the court with his son was particularly meaningful to him. “My son said, ‘Dad, now we can play together,’” Okanlami recalls.

That moment reminded Okanlami of why it is so important to him to try to get an adaptive sports program started at the university.

While he is pushing for the creation of an adaptive sports program for U-M students, Michigan Medicine already has a competitive wheelchair basketball team for kids. The Michigan Rollverines, run by the U-M Adaptive and Inclusive Sports Experience (UMAISE), a joint effort of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the Department of Family Medicine, competed in its first tournament earlier this year. The team received new sports wheelchairs in 2018, thanks to support from Dance Marathon, a nonprofit led by U-M undergraduates.


Jimmy Moceri, a wheelchair basketball star.
1. Jimmy Moceri, a wheelchair basketball star, fixes a wheel before hitting the court. 
Players on the basketball court
2. "It’s bigger than sports. It’s bigger than disability,” Okanlami says. “It’s about diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s about being able to participate in sports with your friends, or your classmates, or your son.” 
Feranmi Okanlami (in chair)
3. Okanlami (in chair) has led several wheelchair basketball outings, during which able-bodied and disabled students, faculty, staff, and members of the community have played together. 
Kids on the basketball court with their coach.
4. “When you give kids the opportunity to use their chair to play a sport and have fun, it’s eye-opening for them and also for their parents, who get to interact with their kids in a different way and see their kids in a different light,” says Daniel Ellman, a Michigan Medicine communication specialist who is the head coach of the Rollverines. The team has grown quickly since it formed in September 2018. 
team photo
5. “We started with about five or six regular participants. Since then, we’ve grown to around 15 kids, aged from 4 to 16, and we come together every week to improve skills and to help our kids learn how to work together and have fun as a team,” says Meghan Veiga, program coordinator and an assistant coach for the team, as well as a recreational therapist in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 
Volunteer coach Mark Bacon helps a young player.
6. Volunteer coach Mark Bacon, a senior manager in Management Information Systems at U-M, helps a young player. 


Photos 4, 5, and 6 by Cassie McNulty and Seong-Hee Yoon. All others by Leisa Thompson Photography