Having a Ball: Professor’s Life Intertwined with Wheelchair Basketball

Posted March 22, 2024, 3:28PM

Andrea Woodson-Smith, ’99, who will be inducted into the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Hall of Fame on April 13, in Richmond, Virginia, was initially reluctant to play the sport. 

Woodson-Smith, Ph.D., is interim chair of the department of kinesiology and recreation administration at North Carolina Central University (NCCU). She became interested in wheelchair basketball in 2000 while interviewing Paralympians in Dallas for her doctorate. There, she met a former Paralympian and current coach in wheelchair basketball who tried to recruit her. 

While earning her doctorate, Woodson-Smith had played on the women’s basketball team at Texas Women’s University but wasn’t excited about wheelchair basketball 

“I was kind of removing myself from playing sports altogether,” Woodson-Smith said. “If I played, I was concerned I would not be as good in a chair as on my feet.” 

Nevertheless, she agreed to take part in practice for a year followed by a summer camp organized by the NWBA. The following year, she competed against another woman on her team for a position. 

“That’s when my interest peaked and my competitiveness started,” Woodson-Smith said. 

On and off from 2003 to 2012, she played on the U.S. national team both domestically and internationally. Outside the United States she competed in Argentina, the Netherlands, England, Mexico and, in 2012, in the Paralympics in London, England. 

Along the way, she became the second female African American to be on a paralympic team. 

From 2020 to 2023, Woodson-Smith joined the board of directors of the NWBA. Among her accomplishments are securing a $200,000 grant for athletes with spinal cord injuries and creating and chairing a committee to increase the number of women in the sport. 

“It opened up doors for me to work with the U.S. State Department diplomacy program as a sports envoy,” Woodson-Smith said. “We would travel to different countries and teach about adapted sports.” 

In addition, Woodson-Smith has conducted research on collegiate adapted sports programs. 

Today, Woodson-Smith finds it difficult to think of any part of her life that hasn’t been impacted by wheelchair basketball. 

“I met my husband through wheelchair basketball,” Woodson-Smith said. “My two sons have learned and played wheelchair basketball and learned the proper etiquette in discussing disability. My career is affiliated with adapted sports.” 

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