This past weekend at LaGuardia Community College, located in the Long Island City section of Queens, the City University of New York Athletic Conference, under the direction of its executive director, Zak Ivkovic, in collaboration with the New York Rollin’ Knicks wheelchair basketball organization, presented their inaugural Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, featuring some of the world’s top teams, including the Toronto Rollin’ Raptors, Washington D.C.’s MedStar NRH Punishers and Long Island’s Nassau Kings.
“We are thrilled to partner with the Rollin’ Knicks to bring some of the best wheelchair basketball players in the world to the CUNY community, and more specifically, to our students whom we are hoping to engage better in the arena of sports for the disabled,” stated Ivkovic.
The Rollin’ Knicks are part of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, which was founded in 1948 and comprises more than 200 wheelchair basketball teams across 22 conferences. The CUNY-Rollin’ Knicks iniative was conceptualized as a vehicle to offer more opportunities to a broad demographic constituting the CUNY community.
“I have been developing our Inclusive and Adaptive Sports strategy for the CUNY system for the past few years, and the latest addition to it was the hosting of the Rollin’ Knicks Tournament,” Ivkovic explained.
He continued, “We have developed multiple partners in the space who have been extremely receptive to working with us and helping to serve our students better. That effort began with some initial work with USOC’s U.S. Paralympic division and their leader Paul Ackerman upon my visit to their headquarters in Colorado Springs.”
Ivkovic recalled, “We developed a working relationship whereby I was intrigued to learn how we can serve our students with disabilities better in the CUNY system. I found rather quickly that the collegiate athletic offerings are rather bleak and leave a lot to be desired. As an example there are only nine men’s and five women’s collegiate wheelchair basketball teams.
“From there we developed some very good relationships in this area, namely John Hamre of the Wheelchair Sports Federation…In those few years we managed to bring a few events to our students and also meet lots of other awesome people who are experts in their arenas, plus I found a number of our own students who were excelling in their sports.”
“CUNY was also one of about 25-30 entities in the entire country,” Ivkovic expounded, “to have been invited this past December to the Paralympic Summit in Colorado to discuss ways we can advance the conversation, especially in the collegiate landscape.” He noted there are currently more than 9,000 disabled students in the CUNY system, the largest urban university system in the United States.
“I want to start a CUNY wheelchair basketball team,” Ivkovic emphasized. “I know it is a lofty goal, and we will surely need some grant funding to do so, but there is no reason why it cannot be accomplished, and having the wide array of top talent on the Rollin’ Knicks, as well as the Brooklyn Nets Wheelchair Basketball Team and Nassau Kings, provides us with the much needed talent pool to support our work while also providing talent for them for the future.”