Many ingredients go into making a successful sports program. Coaches are paid, players experience the action and fans wear every emotion on their sleeves. Winning is great because it brings excitement, but where does the joy come from? It stems from individuals who had an idea and brought it to life using teamwork and perseverance.
Alabama’s adaptive athletics program is building a tradition. It’s witnessed five national championships, including three in wheelchair basketball. Players provide sweat, heart and passion, but this adaptive program was founded on $5,000 and a Georgia native.
Dr. Brent Hardin, founder and director of Alabama adaptive sports, studied physical education as an undergraduate at Ambassador College. He went on to achieve a master’s degree at the University of Georgia and a Ph.D. at Florida State University in adaptive physical education.
“Being involved in adaptive sports is something I always wanted to do,” Hardin said. “I saw a need for it at Georgia and Florida State. We started a small position-formed wheelchair basketball program at Florida State and everything else took off from there.”
Hardin arrived at Alabama in 2003, after three years at Florida State. He accepted a position as an assistant professor in adaptive sports. Like Georgia and Florida State, Hardin saw a need for adaptive sports at Alabama. He reacted on impulse, instead of asking for permission.
“I wanted to start a women’s wheelchair basketball team,” Hardin said. “We didn’t have a budget or a place to practice, but it’s what I wanted to do.”
Hardin didn’t have a budget, but he did have help. Margaret Stran, another Georgia native, accompanied Hardin to Tuscaloosa. Stran was an assistant professor in the kinesiology department. She coached wheelchair basketball, while Hardin was teaching at the University of Georgia. The two married before arriving at the University of Alabama.
Fundraising was a factor in keeping the dream alive. The Christopher Reeve Foundation responded to Hardin’s grant application, supplying Alabama’s adaptive program with $5,000. The program continued raising funds for equipment and road trips, but it finally had a home at Foster Auditorium.
“Production causes people to give money,” Hardin said. “Our percentage of funds is basically 85 to 15. 85 percent is hard money. The other 15 percent comes from fundraising. We’ve been blessed to pull in funds from grants and sponsors.”
Alabama’s adaptive athletics program struck gold in 2009. Hardin coached the women’s wheelchair basketball team to its first national title. President Robert Whitt (chancellor) and provost Judy Bonner (president) both took notice. UA donated $6,000 to the program.
“Our women’s team was finally getting national attention,” Hardin said. “Whitt and Bonner both were huge, but ABC medical was the biggest surprise. It became one of our main sponsors, donating $10,000. The people there allowed our athletes use their wheelchairs.”
Hardin accomplished a second national title with the women’s wheelchair team in 2010. He was having success as a coach, but he wanted to be more involved in fundraising and expanding the program. Hardin hired Elisha Williams in 2011. His investment paid off as the women’s team captured its third national title.
“A coach’s main goal is to prepare players for a career,” Hardin said. “If it’s in sports, the goal is to make sure your players are excellent athletically. If not, a coach has to make sure the players are mentally prepared to make a positive impact on society.”
Ford Buttram, Alabama men’s wheelchair basketball coach, was in Wisconsin when Alabama started a men’s team started in 2006. Hardin hired him in 2009 to assist the women’s wheelchair team. Buttram was a member of three national title teams, but he wasn’t hands on with the group. Hardin offered him a ahead coaching position with the men’s team in 2012. Buttram guided the team to its first national title in 2013. Buttram said Hardin has always had his back.
“Brent and his wife, Margaret are the driving forces behind the adaptive sports program,” Buttram said. They are very intelligent, friendly and loving people. Brent’s impact on the program has been through financing and interacting with our players.”
Failures of past coaches caused Hardin to spend more time with the women’s wheelchair team. The hiring of Williams has allowed him more interactions with both teams.
“Brent has impacted our players by providing scholarships, tutors and more sporting venues,” Buttram said. “He has so much fun with our boys, especially on road trips.”
Coaches are taught to be a student of the game. Times and seasons may change, but it’s never too late to learn. Flexibility is a must if one desires to stay ahead of the curve.
“Brent is constantly thinking of ways to expand the adaptive sports program,” Buttram said. “One of my favorite memories was when he and I went golfing. He came across an idea of wanting to start a golf team. I thought he was joking, but he ended up raising enough money and now we have one. The man is a visionary.”
Dequel “DQ” Robinson, junior shooting guard for Alabama men’s wheelchair basketball, said Hardin has no problem with spending money on both teams.
“Dr. Hardin was one of the first people that welcomed me to the team,” Robinson said. “He’s always smiling and cheering. He buys food for both teams during road games.”
Paul Bryant and Mal Moore both were great athletic directors at Alabama. Bryant was a historic coach before becoming a director. Moore was an offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach before accepting a director’s baton. Both men will be remembered as legends to Alabama fans. Hardin is making strides to a legendary call, but doesn’t about his legacy much.
“I’m not one of those people who put a lot of thought into that stuff,” Hardin said. “If I was to die today, all I want is for this program to remain strong. If the program can go on without me, then I have done my job. Another championship would be nice, but growth in this program is better.”

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