Illinois Wheelchair basketball reflects on loss of founder Timothy Nugent

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Illinois Wheelchair basketball reflects on loss of founder Timothy Nugent

By Thomas Polcyn

The University of Illinois lost one of its veterans on Veterans Day — one that completely changed the campus lifestyle for disabled students.

On November 11, Dr. Timothy Nugent passed away at age 92. Nugent is most known at the University level for starting what is now the Division of Disability Resources and Education Services. DRES has expanded and helped make life on campus easier for students with disabilities.

Dr. Nugent was inspired to start DRES after seeing how many of his fellow veterans — he served in the U.S. Army — had physical disabilities, but still wanted the opportunity to go to college. Thanks to his dedication to helping the disabled, he is often referred to as “the father of accessibility.”

Due to his contributions, Nugent Hall — the first fully accessible dorm on campus — was named in his honor.

Along with what he has done for the university academically, Nugent was also the founder of Illinois’ first collegiate wheelchair basketball team. He started the team in 1948, and later would go on to start the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

He served as the NWBA commissioner for 25 years, and since then the league has experienced some massive growth. The Paralympics — and many other similar endeavors — are a result of Dr. Nugent’s initial ideas.

Dr. Nugent affected the lives of many, but to the wheelchair basketball players at Illinois, he was particularly special.

“When I think of Dr. Nugent, honestly I think of U of I wheelchair basketball,” said Gail Gaeng, a women’s wheelchair basketball player. “I also think of wheelchair basketball in general. He was the man that pioneered the sport and has done so much for our program.”

Men’s captain Mak Nong had an especially close connection with Dr. Nugent. Nugent knew him as a basketball player, but their relationship was much more than just basketball.

“He took a chance on us when nobody else would,” Nong said. “Him and his wife were always loving. It was almost like having grandparents away from home. No matter the situation, they always focused conversations on you and it was just great to have them around. It is thanks to him that we all have the opportunity to be here today and I couldn’t be more thankful.”

The Illini were not able to make his memorial service, but played their last weekend tournament — at Wisconsin-Whitewater — in his honor.

“I think playing in the tournament is what he would have wanted us to do,” said assistant coach Kate Rougeau. “He was a great man and will be a huge loss to our program and wheelchair basketball. He gave us the ability to do what we do and has made this whole program possible.”

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