This week marks an important first for adaptive sports in Clemson. The university is launching a new competitive wheelchair tennis team, who are competing at their first-ever national event on Thursday.
The team consists of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management faculty member Jeff Townsend and Clemson LIFE student Marsden Miller, who are representing Clemson for the first time in the 2019 Collegiate Wheelchair Tennis National Championships in Orlando, Florida.
Over the past few weeks, Townsend and Miller have been training daily with Chuck McCuen, Clemson’s Director of Tennis Operations – often meeting early in the morning to practice.
Miller says the hard work is worth it, because their involvement is creating opportunities for other wheelchair athletes at Clemson, and throughout its surrounding communities, that weren’t always available to him as a kid.
Miller grew up with a love of sport. But because he uses a wheelchair, as a child he had to travel to find sport and recreation opportunities he could take part in.
“I had the opportunity of playing wheelchair basketball, but it was four hours away from my home,” Miller says. So he registered in local sports teams, in hopes they would give him a shot on the field.
“I was a part of a baseball team, even though I couldn’t play,” continued Miller. “I dressed out like my team and mainly hung out in the dugout, praying they would put me in one day.”
According to Dr. Jasmine Townsend, an Assistant Professor in Recreational Therapy, Miller’s experience is typical of most children with disabilities growing up in smaller communities.
“Although larger cities tend to offer more inclusive sport and outdoor recreation program options, the smaller the town you’re in, the less recreational opportunities tend to be available,” she says. “There are even fewer opportunities for athletes with disabilities to compete at a higher level. Clemson University’s new wheelchair tennis team is an important step towards growing competitive opportunities for children and young adults with disabilities who want to play.”
Miller may not be playing baseball, but he is active in campus sports – working as part of the university’s Athletics department, and playing on an intramural wheelchair basketball team. Increasing athletic and recreational opportunities for students with disabilities on campus is important to Miller, which is why he signed up for wheelchair tennis as well. As he sees it, increasing adaptive sport opportunities on campus goes a long way towards making Clemson an outstanding place to live, learn, and work for everyone.
“There may be other students in wheelchairs that want to attend Clemson, but also want to play sports,” says Miller. “Clemson is already a great school to attend, but this program helps us make sure no one feels left out.”
McCuen agrees. He also sees the team as an opportunity to send a clear message about Clemson’s continued efforts to grow as an inclusive, accommodating, and integrated institution. “Any opportunity for Clemson to participate on a national stage is an opportunity to share Clemson University’s values and commitment to excellence,” he says. “This team is no different, and we are looking forward to competing and representing Clemson in this new arena! We hope that by increasing the adaptive sports opportunities at Clemson, we are increasing the ways that diverse students can engage, interact, and enrich Clemson and our community.”
You can follow the team’s progress on the Clemson Adaptive Sports Facebook page!