A man in wheelchair wears a maize Michigan basketball jersey and reaches to shoot a basketball as opposing players reach towards him.
Despite a disappointing outcome in the Wolverine Invitational, the tournament brought visibility to disability and adaptive sports. Courtesy of Sydney Verlinde.

The impact of the Wolverine Invitational wheelchair basketball tournament transcends any one sport.

The adaptive sports community came together in Port Huron for the four-day event, a celebration of disability that included both American and Canadian collegiate wheelchair basketball teams. In addition to the main wheelchair basketball tournament, the event included a free local adaptive sports clinic for the Port Huron community, a visit from three-time Paralympic medalist Matt Scott and the debut of the first community college adaptive sports program in the United States.

“It was a fantastic day,” Michigan coach Jessica Wynne said. “We were a part of history today.”

Michigan placed fifth out of eight teams with a 2-3 record in its first tournament of the season. However, the visibility that the tournament brought to disability and adaptive sport headlined the weekend.

In their opening matchup against Brampton Cruisers on Friday, the Wolverines lost a defensive battle 46-43. Later, in the late game against Arizona, Michigan flipped the script. The Wolverines went up 18-8 with just over six minutes to go in the first quarter and held onto their lead en route to a 43-33 victory.

On Saturday, Michigan fell to Southwest Minnesota State in the last game of pool play. The Wolverines were unable to recover from a slow start and defensive lapses, heading into halftime down 34-17 before eventually falling 62-33. Tournament play began Saturday afternoon, with the third-seeded Wolverines losing to second-seeded Kitchener 59-40.

In the losers’ bracket on Sunday, Michigan was able to get revenge on the Cruisers in a rematch of Friday’s first game. The Wolverines showed signs of improved team chemistry while leaning on their stout defense, prevailing 38-24 to finish the tournament with a 2-3 record.

Although the tournament didn’t go in the Wolverines’ favor, Wynne was upbeat about her team’s showing over the weekend against Brampton. She specifically praised her team’s performance on Sunday in the rematch game. Scott, who met with the Wolverines prior to Sunday’s matchup, gave the team valuable advice from his Paralympic success on how to bounce back after a lackluster Saturday.

“(Scott) asked us a very crucial question which is, ‘Who are you when negative things are happening on the court?’ ” Wynne said. “I think we meditated on that. We thought about it and prayed about it. And we really took it to the next level in terms of embracing that (mentality).”

Guards Eddie Elinburg and co-captain Besh Milam both emphasized the importance of team cohesion and communication as they move forward.

“It took us a few games this tournament to get our offense in a position where we’re starting to gel,” Milam said.

But the Wolverine Invitational was about more than just Michigan’s performance on the court. The event’s larger impact was foremost in the minds of Wynne and players.

“(Adaptive sport) gives us a chance to belong,” Milam said. “I have something called spinal bifida. I don’t get a look from anybody during a tournament (because of) the way I walk … (the way I do) anything just because of my disability. I’m expected to perform at a high level and if I’m not performing at a high level, I’m gonna hear it. (Adaptive sports) is teaching you things like accountability, things like integrity, things like leadership.”

Adaptive sports can bring opportunities to develop those qualities to its players. And it’s the importance of making adaptive sports visible that makes the Michigan wheelchair basketball team so proud to be a part of this event.

One of the highlights of the invitational was an exhibition game between host St. Clair County Community College (SC4) — the first community college in the U.S. to establish an adaptive sports program — and Michigan State. It was the first wheelchair basketball game for either program, but the importance of the game reached far beyond the Port Huron community and even state borders.

With SC4 pioneering adaptive sport at the community college level, that exhibition game and weekend of matches highlighted how Michigan’s participation in the Wolverine Invitational brought visibility to adaptive sports in a way that transcends its own win-loss record. Expanding visibility in collegiate adaptive sports counts just as much as every win on the court, and the Wolverines worked toward both in the invitational.