Brand new facility opens new doors for Alabama Adapted AthleticsBy Ehsan Kassim | 01/29/2018 8:12am
Caitlin McDermott felt the opening of the Stran-Hardin Arena was a bittersweet moment.
McDermott played on the Alabama national championship women’s wheelchair basketball team in 2015, but is a little jealous of the players that get to play in the new $10 million multi-purpose facility for the University's Adapted Athletics program.
“I am glad this is finally happening, but I kind of wish it happened a few years sooner, so that I could have played,” she said.
McDermott did have an opportunity to play on the court, as she was apart of the alumni team that played in a tournament on Saturday, Jan. 20 to commemorate the opening of the facility.
The arena is named after Margaret Stran and Brent Hardin, the pioneers of the University's Adapted Athletics program. Brent Hardin is the director of Alabama Adapted Athletics and Margaret Stran is the associate director.
Upon seeing the facility for the first time, the small details that the building staff included stuck out most to McDermott.
“I thought it was amazing,” McDermott said. “I hadn’t had any walkthroughs before, so I had only seen pictures of what the inside would look like. It was better than I even thought it would be. Just the incredible detail that our staff had considered and the contractors and the architects had considered to make it adaptable to wheelchair athletics was amazing.”
The two-story facility includes a NCAA regulation game venue for wheelchair basketball, an athletic training room, a strength and conditioning room, team meeting rooms, locker rooms and study halls.
The Adapted Athletics basketball teams previously held practices in the University Recreation Center and found it hard to schedule practices at ideal times. The team now has an easier time and can practice when it wants.
Senior Sean Burns, who was on the 2013 men’s national basketball team, is proud of the new facility and all its amenities.
“The best thing about it is that it is your own,” Burns said. “It is very prideful. It really makes you want to come in here and get better.”
Burns also believes the new facility, boasting a regulation-sized basketball court, will give the team a competitive advantage in games.
“Most of the teams we play don’t have full-sized courts,” he said. “I would say that say that’s a huge advantage, because we are playing a full 94-feet in every practice. When we play in games, even on a small court, our conditioning level is that much better. You can already tell the difference in conditioning level this semester versus last semester”
Burns said when he first saw the arena a couple of days before practice, he wanted to get out and start playing right away.
The Alabama Adapted Athletics program began in 2003 with the women’s wheelchair basketball team. Since then, the program has grown to include 30 student athletes competing in women’s basketball, men’s basketball, wheelchair tennis, para-rowing and adapted golf.
The teams have been successful, with three wheelchair tennis championships (2013, 2015, 2017), five championships in women's wheelchair basketball (2009, 2010, 2011, 2015, 2017), and one in men’s wheelchair basketball (2013).
"Just seeing where the program was when I first started and where it is now and where it is going now is just amazing,” said Ryan Hynes, assistant coach to the men’s wheelchair basketball team.
Hynes got to view the arena before his players and he felt overwhelmed with how beautiful the finished product looked.
The men’s wheelchair basketball team is out to a 15-3 start on the season and and has high expectations for the rest of the season.
“It’s my last year here, so I’d love to finish out winning,” Burns said. “It would be cool to hang another banner on that wall."
Adding another banner would help certify the Alabama Adapted Athletics program success, something McDermott feels was solidified with the opening of the brand-new arena.
“I think the perseverance and determination of players, in the past and present, having an incredible staff, have really pushed for this, not taking ‘no’ for an answer,” she said. “To be able to have this arena that is a visual representation of how incredible, competitive and great this program is.”