'It's about equal opportunity more than anything else'
It took just one class at UGA's Ramsey Student Center to change the course of Brent Hardin's life.
That class, taught by kinesiology professor Michael Horvat, introduced Hardin (M.Ed. '97) to adapted physical education. Students worked with athletes ranging from kids with disabilities to Paralympians, and the experience led Harbin to a career making athletics accessible to all who want to join in.
"That's when it all clicked for me—that class was a seminal moment," says Hardin, director of adapted athletics for the University of Alabama. After graduating from UGA, he went on to receive his doctorate in adapted sport pedagogy from Florida State University and joined the faculty at Alabama to teach undergraduate and graduate classes in adapted sport.
At the time, there was no adapted athletics program at the university. Hardin began a small program as a service and to help his students get hands-on experience with the needs of athletes with disabilities.
"So, I taught my courses. But at the same time, we were growing the program, and over the years the program has gotten bigger and bigger," he says. He later went on to create the university's adapted athletics program in 2003, and it now recruits players from all over the world for its top-level wheelchair basketball and tennis teams, as well as emerging adapted sports such as rowing, track, and golf.
Hardin recently celebrated a career milestone with the opening of the Stran-Hardin Arena, a new athletic facility on the University of Alabama campus dedicated to the institution's adapted athletics program.
Opened in January, the $10 million facility named in part for Hardin has regulation courts for wheelchair basketball plus training rooms, locker rooms, team meeting rooms, and study areas. The goal, says Hardin, is to give all athletes high-quality facilities.
The facility shows students and the public that the university is committed to equity in its athletics programs, and it also changes the expectations about what it means to be a student with disabilities.
"It's about equal opportunity more than anything else," says Hardin. "We're just very mission-driven here, and our mission is to give student athletes the same proportionate experience as any athlete on campus."