On Saturday, March 4th, a large gathering of nearly 300 past and present members of the National Wheelcats family celebrated the organizations 60th Anniversary. 60 years ago in 1957, a handful of guys launched the Nashville Handicappers, Nashville’s first wheelchair basketball team. Over the next 6 decades under the leadership of “H” and Vena McCormack, the National Wheelcats, Inc. (NWC) evolved into a national organization that has supported thousands of athletes with disabilities. The celebration held at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Nashville provided the athletes and families who’ve benefited from the organization an opportunity to thank and recognize all the volunteers who’ve given their time and effort through the years. Live music, Wheelcats memorabilia, fantastic food, and an open bar created a festive atmosphere where folks re-connected with friends they had not seen in years or even decades. The celebration also reminded us all of the work we have ahead of us serving as a springboard to continue our mission going forward.
In 1957, “H” McCormack was a member of the Nashville Handicappers basketball team. The next year the Handicappers became the Wheelcats. Over the next couple of years the Wheelcats team grew, “H” married a girl fresh out of high school (Vena), and the genesis of the National Wheelcats, Inc. had begun. Their work and dedication to the basketball team began in the late 1950s. Yet today, they continue to spend each Saturday and Sunday evening directing the charitable bingo enterprise, the Bingo Barn in Guthrie, KY. Vena also serves on the NWC Board as the Treasurer giving countless hours each week. There is no doubt that “H” and Vena have dedicated their lives to the Educating, Encouraging, and Inspiring athletes and the communities wherein they’ve practiced and competed. A group of dedicated Bingo Barn staff also work tirelessly each weekend raising monies that fund our travel, equipment, and use of facilities. Numerous coaches, family members, friends, and acquaintances have also contributed to the growth and success of the NWC over the decades. Though we started with basketball, we’ve added rugby, sled hockey, softball, tennis, fishing, water skiing, golf, racing, etc… the list goes on. In some form or another, all of these sports require experienced leaders, coaches, equipment managers, and support staff. After 60 years, it’s truly humbling to think of all the folks who’ve generously given their time and lent their expertise. Whether absent or present, the evening was spent recognizing and appreciating each and every one of our volunteers.
The Celebration was a reunion of sorts. Folks re-connected with friends they had not seen in years or even decades. Wheelcats athletes and friends travelled to Nashville from Washington State, Quebec, Colorado, Texas, and many places in between. Guys who played on basketball teams 40-50 years ago shared drinks and stories, reliving the camaraderie that accompanies team sports. I personally caught up with the guy who introduced me to wheelchair tennis in 1989. There were rugby players from the 1990s and track athletes from the 1970s and 1980s. Many athletes brought along and introduced their kids. And of course we remembered friends who couldn’t make the trip to Nashville and those who have unfortunately passed away.
The evening furthermore reminded us of the legacy we are obligated to foster going forward. The 60th anniversary wasn’t an ending to the mission that began in 1957. It served to bolster the organization moving further into the 21st Century. As the evening wore on and some of us “older Wheelcats” grew tired, I was struck by the energy of a couple of the kids on Jr. Sled Preds hockey team. They were flying around chasing one another as the banquet hall was emptying. Their energy and spirit is boundless. They are the future of the Wheelcats.
The Celebration served to honor “H” and Vena for their decades-long commitment serving the athletes with disabilities and their communities. We can’t thank them enough. Lots of other volunteers were also recognized as invaluable members of the Wheelcats family. So many in attendance reminisced about their experiences and friendships fostered by the NWC. Our 60 year old organization has enriched lives and provided opportunities for athletes with disabilities to achieve goals they never thought possible. But the work doesn’t end with this celebration. It wasn’t the final chapter of the Wheelcats’ story. We now have a responsibility to honor the legacy of “H” and Vena by continuing the mission they started.
Congratulations to James Whitlock of Smyrna, TN. James was awarded the 2016 Wheelchair Tennis Excellence Award by the USTA for volunteering his time to promote the game.
Lake Toho, Kissimmee, FL
March 31 - April 2
6th Michael Murphy
4th Jeff Thompson
7th Jeff Koch
27th Mark Singer
29th Mike Schmitz
31st Douglas Price
33rd Steve Miller
Tier II team
Fort Wayne, IN, Feb. 11-12
Sled Preds complete the weekend 3-0
Cleveland, OH, Feb. 25-26
Sled Preds finish the weekend 2-1
Tier IV team
Southeastern Sled Hockey League Championships
Raleigh, NC, March 10-12
The team finished the weekend without a win. However, Jamie Reeves won the Goalie skills competition. Congrats Jamie!
Heartland League Championships
Grand Rapids, MI, March 10-12
Sled Preds repeat as League Champs in the Heartland.
National Wheelcats Invitational
Nashville, TN, Mar. 3-5
The Music City Lightning claimed 3rd place. With a 4-1 record, their only loss was to the tournament champs, Miami Valley.
Bluegrass Bass Bash
Kentucky Lake, Gilbertsville, KY
Beginners & Kids Clinic
Tuesdays 7 - 9 PM (Beginning May 2)
Centennial Sportsplex, Nashville, TN
Advanced Tennis Clinic
Mondays, 6:30 - 9:30 PM (Beginning May 1)
Old Fort Park, Murfreesboro, TN
Tier II, Tier IV, & Jr. Sled Preds
Disabled Hockey Festival
San Jose, CA, April 6-9
Amputee Golf Clinic
Nashboro Golf Club
Nashville, TN, April 22
Wednesdays 5-9 pm
Apr. 2, 9, 23, 30 1 - 5 pm (Rec Center)
Apr. 5, 19, 5 - 9 pm (Murphy Center)
Quadcrushers vs. MTSU Men's Rugby
Murfreesboro, TN (MTSU Rec Center)
April 13, 6 pm
Quadcrushers @ Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green, KY
April 27, 6 pm
Saturdays, 8:30 AM, Shelby Bottom Nature Center, Nashville, TN
The Achilles International Nashville Chapter, an organization designed to assist athletes with disabilities, will host a weekly practice. For more information contact Carrie Redmon at 270-535-8106.