History of Wheelchair Softball and the NWSA

We may never know who the first wheelchair athlete was that picked up a bat and a ball and hit the parking lot. We do know that organized wheelchair softball started in Sioux Falls, South Dakota with the inception of the very first team - the Sioux Wheelers. Good news traveled fast and by the mid-1970's, surrounding cities in the upper Midwest developed their own teams such as the Courage Rolling Gophers, Des Moines Roadrunners, and the University of Illinois wheelchair softball team.

In 1976, the National Wheelchair Softball Association (NWSA) was formed as the national governing body of the sport with Dave VanBuskirk presiding as NWSA's first commissioner. Under NWSA's direction, the league expanded in the late 1970's to include such teams as the Quint City Roughriders and a team from Omaha.

In 1980 two teams in particular were born - the Chicago Pacemakers and the St. Paul Rolling Thunder. Both powerhouses, along with the Courage Rolling Gophers boast the only true dynasties in the league's history with the St. Paul Rolling Thunder taking the crown. Southwest State University also joined NWSA that year.

Jon Speake took over as NWSA commissioner in the mid-1980's and held the position for three consecutive 7-year terms resigning prior to his untimely death in August of 2005. Through Speake's direction, the league expanded further.

If there was a new team participating at the NWST back in the 1980's it was most likely from Illinois. The state saw its share of teams. From the University of Illinois, Chicago Pacemakers, Champaign-Urbana, Urbana Black Knights, RIC Rollers, Chicago Sidewinders, Windy City Snakes, to the Chicago Bulls. Other teams joining in were the Great Plains Drifters, and Wisconsin PVA Badgers.

In the late 1980's to early 1990's wheelchair softball expanded its boarders throughout the Midwest developing teams such as Wright State University, Columbus Pioneers, Kansas City Slammers and St. Louis Rams. One great highlight of this era was a sponsorship deal fostered by the RIC Rollers and Cubs Care which set precedence for other teams across the country.

By the mid-1990's, Baltimore All-Stars, Texas Stars and Colorado Rockies spread NWSA's territory even further. The Courage Rolling Gophers split into two new separate teams and the St. Paul Saints and Courage Rolling Twins were born.

In the mid-to-late 1990's Texas and Colorado would join Illinois and Minnesota as states with three or more teams. The Texas Stars broke into three established teams, Astros Blue, Astros White and Dallas Lighting. Colorado had four established teams at one time with the Colorado Rockies, Blake St. Bombers, Colorado Springs Wildcats (formerly Sky Sox), and Bolder Brewers. These programs grew too quick too fast and consequently, these programs have suffered since.

In 1998 the sport was introduced to New York and from there spread along the coast developing the United Spinal Mets, NEPVA Red Sox, Magee Phillies, Brookhaven Ducks, Mauldin Mallers, Tampa Bay Devil Rays and United Spinal Yankees.

New team names with familiar faces came into the scene a the turn of the century. A Toledo Silverstreaks/Columbus Pioneers team got together to form TC United, which is now the Cleveland Indians and women's team named the American Divas was formed.

The NWSA continues to grow and has only mentioned a brief overview of our history and teams. If you have any historical perspectives to add to this article please contact us.

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