The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is no stranger to winning championships. Since 2013, this Division III athletic program has won National Championships in football, basketball, gymnastics, and football. There’s also another program, however, that is also deserving of its many accolades: UW-Whitewater’s Wheelchair Basketball Program. The men’s team has captured four national titles in the past six years—with a total of 12 overall since its inception in 1973—and the women’s team has one three back-to-back championships (2012, 2013, and 2014) since its start in 2008.
While both teams were working toward National Championships in 2014, a seemingly simple and necessary part of the player’s lives—the program’s locker rooms—weren’t directly attributing to that goal. “We had old locker rooms that were really for general usage,” says Jeremy Lade, who serves as the Director of Wheelchair Athletics for UW-Whitewater as well as the Head Coach for the men’s Wheelchair Basketball team. “They weren’t designed to be accessible at all—let alone handicap accessible for an entire team. Both teams had to adapt to the best of their ability.”
Adapting didn’t seem like a fair thing to ask National Champions to do, at least in the eyes of Greg Swanson, Director of the Physical Plan at UW-Whitewater. He though a perfect reward for the recently-won championships of both teams would be to redesign the locker rooms for the athletes, so they’d truly feel like champions in a space created just for them. He turned to Spacesaver for help in making his list of wheelchair-accessible locker requirements a reality.
One of the biggest issues for the locker rooms was that the existing space wasn’t doing the greatest job at storing the necessary gear. The athletes couldn’t use the full length of the locker, so the bottom half was always crammed with uniforms, gear, and wheels—each player has an extra set of wheels for both their basketball chairs and day chairs. For the new lockers, Swanson wanted each player to be able to access the entire space of the locker from his or her wheelchair, and there needed to be a place—besides within the locker itself—for extra wheel storage.
Firmly believing that storage challenges aren’t standard, so solutions shouldn’t be, either, Spacesaver’s in-house team of engineers modified a FreeStyle® Personal Storage Locker to 46” tall, which left enough space to construct a custom wheel rack for extra wheels that was still accessible from a wheelchair. Within the locker body, a configurable section with hooks allows players to hang towels, clothing, and other items, and a cubby space is available to lock up personal items and keep them secure.
Lade says that he sees a huge improvement to player morale as a result of the new locker storage, but the biggest endorsement comes from Michael Kipe, a History Education major at UW-Whitewater and a guard on the men’s Wheelchair Basketball team. “It’s easier for us to move around, and we have a lot of space for all of our stuff,” he says. “My favorite feature is the space for the wheels. I’ve never seen that anywhere else, and it’s a unique feature that was specifically created for us and benefits us.”