TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama System Chancellor Dr. Robert Witt and his wife, Sandee, were watching a wheelchair basketball game at The University of Alabama when they saw a young girl approach the court after the final buzzer sounded.
Witt, then president at UA, watched as she wheeled her chair beneath one of the goals and reached her arms above her head.
“Sandee and I instantly realized the young girl was seeing what could be,'” Witt said. “I would imagine that, for most of her life, she had defined her opportunities through the confines of her wheelchair. The game opened her eyes.”
Witt, who as president at both The University of Alabama and the University of Texas at Arlington, supported adapted athletics via funding and staff support, was reminded of that moment at Foster Auditorium when he learned recently that he will be inducted into the National Collegiate Wheelchair Basketball Intercollegiate Division Hall of Fame.
The NWBA will officially honor Witt during “A Night of Champions,” a celebration of the success of UA’s adapted athletics basketball teams Feb. 26 during halftime of UA’s games, which begin at 6 p.m. in Foster Auditorium. Witt is the first administrator, coach or student-athlete affiliated with UA to be inducted into the NWBA Hall of Fame.
“In many ways, my selection is more about Brent Hardin and Margaret Stran than it is about me,” Witt said. “Their passion, drive and hard work created a program here that has attracted national acclaim as a model for the country.”
Hardin is director of Adapted Athletics at UA and Margaret Stran is associate director.
Earlier in his presidency at UA, Witt was approached by Hardin and Stran, both keen to raise funds to expand the Adapted Athletics program that had already launched its women’s basketball program. After significant investments in equipment and travel funds, the women’s program became dominant, winning five national championships since 2009. The women’s tennis team won the 2013 national title, while the men’s basketball team won the 2013 title.
“When Margaret and I arrived at The University of Alabama 12 years ago, one of the first things we did was meet with Dr. Witt and explain to him our vision of an adapted athletics program at UA,” Hardin said. “Dr. Witt was instantly supportive and has opened so many doors for us on campus and around the state since the program’s inception. Dr. Witt understood instantly the bright light that adapted athletics could be for the University. He has always treated our athletes with the same respect as other athletes on campus and because of his support the program has grown and changed countless lives. Dr. Witt is well known in wheelchair basketball and is a hero to the world of collegiate adapted athletics.”
Witt has seen the impact of adapted athletics at every spectrum, from young to old, and in different states. He recalled a young woman in high school who had been in an accident and had transitioned to using a wheelchair. Witt recalls she was depressed about her immobility and inactivity.
“After a stay at the Lakeshore Rehabilitation Center in Birmingham, she enrolled at the University, got involved in the Adapted Athletics program and had a life-changing experience,” Witt said. “I saw the difference it could make in someone’s life.”
Witt became UA System chancellor in 2012. UA Adapted Athletics has since added golf and para-rowing to its sponsored sports. UA has also launched non-competitive sports programs. Prior to serving as president of UA, Witt supported the growth of adapted athletics while serving as president at the University of Texas at Arlington.
David Miller, UA Media Relations, 205/348-0825, email@example.com