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Tim Nugent
Tim Nugent's award is the Hall of Fame's highest honor, outside of enshrinement.

Tim Nugent honored by Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Tim Nugent, considered the "Father of Accessibility," and the founder of the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services at the University of Illinois, has been posthumously awarded the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

It is the Hall of Fame's highest honor outside of enshrinement.

Nugent, who died on Nov. 11, 2015, at the age of 92, was a 24-year-old World War II veteran and University of Wisconsin graduate student when, in 1948, he took charge of a new program that has since become the Division of Disability Resources and Educational Services at Illinois. Established first to serve the needs of wounded World War II veterans seeking to attend college, DRES, as it became to be known, later opened to other students with disabilities and would become the first comprehensive service program of its kind.

Named in honor of Hall of Famer John W. Bunn, the first chairman of the Basketball Hall of Fame Committee who served from 1949-1964, the award honors coaches, players and contributors whose outstanding accomplishments have impacted the high school, college, professional and/or the international game.

“The Basketball Hall of Fame is pleased to posthumously recognize Timothy Nugent as the recipient of this year’s Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “Mr. Nugent was truly ahead of his time when it came to ideas of accessibility and creating opportunities for those with physical limitations. As the founder and original commissioner of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, we appreciate his contributions to the game we celebrate.”

Nugent will be formally honored during Hall of Fame Enshrinment Weekend in Springfield, Mass., Aug. 28-30.

After concluding his military career, Nugent organized wheelchair sports for wounded veterans who were otherwise limited by lack of opportunity. Wheelchair basketball started up around the country, and most of the teams were organized at Veterans Administration hospitals. Nugent and his team, the Gizz Kids, organized the first wheelchair basketball tournament; from this, the National Wheelchair Basketball Association was formed. The Gizz Kids took their game on the road and went around the country expanding acceptance for wheelchair basketball.

Marty Morse, who was an assistant coach for the Illinois men's wheelchair basketball team from 1984-92 and coached the wheelchair track and field racing team from 1981 to 2004, called Nugent a "visionary."

"I was fortunate to be an undergrad when Tim was working at DRES. He expected excellence from me as a student-athlete and as a coach," Morse said.

Nugent in 1973 was inducted into the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Hall of Fame after serving as the first CEO of that organization and last year was inducted into the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Hall of Fame.

Two-time Paralympic medalist Will Waller, an Illinois graduate, DRES alum and current CEO of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, said Nugent, "created a venue for me to recognize and pursue my potential.

"I’m forever grateful for his vision and stubborn passion to pursue it and expand it in the face of active resistance. The result: he created a movement that would inexorably change the trajectory of lives of people with disabilities. Sport was a catalyst to change the perception of people with disabilities, including self-perception. Nugent’s legacy extends far beyond the field of play. His name is synonymous with the terms accessibility and disability rights, making his societal impact extraordinary to say the least."

Current Illinois men's wheelchair basketball coach Matt Buchi said no one was more deserving of the honor than Nugent.

"Dr. Nugent has dramatically impacted my life and so many of my friends and teammates in the wheelchair basketball community through his passion for providing opportunities for individuals with disabilities," Buchi said. "His never-ending drive to push the status-quo of accessibility and resources for individuals with disabilities, paved the way for us to be able to achieve a college degree and pursue our passions in sports and in life."

Illinois women's wheelchair basketball coach Stephanie Wheeler, an NWBA Board of Directors member, said she was excited when she heard the news.

"The most incredible part of Dr. Nugent legacy is that he saw the potential in every person he met," she said. "At that time, disabled people were seen as less than simply because they were disabled. Dr. Nugent knew that disability didn’t impact their ability to be valued members of society and demanded that those individuals were treated as such. The other part of his legacy that I carry with me everyday is his dogged pursuit of justice. He never let someone telling him no stop him from doing what he knew was right and just. I’m grateful to be a small part of carrying on his legacy at Illinois. I can’t think of anyone who is more deserving of this honor from the NBA."

In 2014, the first U.S. Paralympic training site for wheelchair racing was established at DRES, and today no university as is dominant as the University of Illinois is in Paralympic track and field.

The credit for that is unmistakable, Morse said.

"That wouldn't have been possible without Tim," he said. "When I got here in 1981 as a student, much of the hard work had been done, changing people’s perceptions. He laid such solid ground work."

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