Destini Mitchell-Murray
(Left to right) CUNY Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Christopher Rosa, Hostos student Destini Mitchell-Murray, and coach Ryan Martin, are part of the team that helped bring wheelchair basketball to CUNY.
When Destini Mitchell-Murray arrived at the Hostos campus to apply for classes in Fall 2017, one of the first things she did was visit the gym. She was desperate to get on the court and play basketball.  

Seeking out the Caimans women’s basketball coach DeVernie Winston, she asked him if she could join the team. Coach Winston, who coached back-to-back national champions in 2018 and 2019, was willing to help in any way he could. There was just one thing that was unique about her request: a car accident caused her to use a wheelchair from a young age.

While the College did not have a wheelchair basketball team, Murray was thankful for the chance to practice in the gym and have the support of both the women’s and men’s teams.

But she still longed for other players to compete with and share her love of the sport.

“Coach Winston and the entire team were great,” Murray said. “But it became my mission to get some kind of wheelchair basketball program going. Everyone should have the chance to play a sport. It wasn’t right that people with disabilities didn’t have their own sport.”

After the announcement by CUNY in May 2019 that The City University of New York was forming its first wheelchair basketball team to compete in the 2019-20 academic year, Murray proudly lent her support to the cause.

Born and raised in Harlem, Murray had plenty of opportunities to play wheelchair basketball throughout middle school and high school at Henry Viscardi School for students with disabilities on Long Island. Playing the sport empowered her through competition and team comradery.

The self-proclaimed “defensive-minded” player immediately went on the offensive to bring the sport to her new campus at Hostos. Working with classmate Stephanie Cabán-González, who is also the president of the CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities at Hostos, Raymond Pérez, the College’s Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) director, the dream started to take shape. CUNY Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Christopher Rosa and Executive Director of the CUNY Athletic Conference Zak Ivkovic brought the dream to a whole new level, adding support, funding, and structure.  

The program soon earned instant credibility and leadership when Ryan Martin, a National Wheelchair Basketball Association all-star, was hired as coach and CUNYAC's Advisor for Inclusive Sports. Born with spina bifida, both of Martin’s legs were amputated at the age of 2; by the age of 12 he was playing wheelchair basketball. The sport became his passion and, ultimately, his career and calling. Martin played wheelchair basketball for Southwest Minnesota State, professionally in Europe and, most recently, for the New York Rolling Knicks of the NWBA. His Ryan Martin Foundation is a giant in the world of inclusive athletics, helping youth and adult athletes with disabilities live independent and full lives through sports training, mentoring and education.
The mission was clear at CUNY: create a system-wide, world-class adaptive sports program for its 11,000 students with disabilities, while recruiting new students. Starting with wheelchair basketball clinics at Hostos in the summer of 2018, they expanded to Queens College, the College of Staten Island, and LaGuardia
Community College.
Wheelchair basketball clinic
Ryan, who works out of both the CUNYAC and Hostos, said the College has made a huge impact on making the team a reality.

“Hostos was instrumental in launching the vision of a wheelchair basketball program with the first clinic held in August of 2018,” Martin said. “The success of the Hostos clinic was a validation of the need for an adaptive sports program system wide. Hostos and the CUNY system alike have a critical mass of students who will be served with this commitment to universal design.”

Pérez said the new team and its mission perfectly align with that of ARC.

"Our project has been very successful in supporting faculty and disability services professionals to develop curricula and instruction around universal design principles," Pérez said. "We are excited to work with Ryan to apply these universal design for learning principles in the design of co-curricular programs in general and intercollegiate athletics in particular."

Stephanie Cabán-GonzálezCabán-González and Murray became good friends while pursuing their passion to assist students with disabilities. While Cabán-González does not rely on a wheelchair—and this was her first experience with wheelchair basketball—she is an advocate for supporting and assisting people with all types if disabilities, including “invisible” disabilities that are not obvious to the outside world. Having dyslexia and fibromyalgia herself, she helped bring hidden disability advocate and speaker Christina Irene to Hostos on April 11 to promote awareness, understanding and the destigmatization of invisible disabilities.

Cabán-González, who is studying liberal arts and is exploring several options at four-year colleges, including communications, political science, and disability studies, believes getting behind the new team opens the door for more positive activities for all students, no matter their differences.

"It may be a disability, but for me, it's more of an ability to do better and be better,” Cabán-González said. “You can’t stop dreaming and working for what you believe in.”

Pérez said the benefits of the new wheelchair basketball team could not be overstated.

“Studies show that individuals with disabilities historically have a higher rate of unemployment and are often less likely to attend college than their peers,” Pérez said. “We aim to provide the support that can help change this trend. In fact, ARC hired Ryan this year with this effort in mind, and we have been able to inspire and empower athletes with his help. Hostos is proud to continue to serve as a hub for this program and thrilled coach Martin will be leading the CUNY team.”

The Caimans women’s basketball team also lent support, from coach Winston backing Murray’s efforts to the Caiman players traveling to her old high school to try out wheelchair basketball for themselves.
The effort touched many people on the Hostos campus.

Kayla Wilson was a big part of both Hostos women’s teams that won back-to-back national titles under coach Winston in 2018 and 2019. Having earned Player of the Year and tournament Most Valuable Player honors at the conference, regional, and national levels, she called playing wheelchair basketball was “a humbling experience.”

“It was really challenging,” Wilson said. “It is hard on your arms, and the rules are different. “The players there were really beating us, but it was fun. I think it is great what Destini is doing because she is a voice for the disabled. They can do what we can do, they just need a voice and she did that.”

Coach Winston said what Destini was able to do is nothing short of amazing.

“Destini is gifted,” Winston said. “She and I worked together to help showcase the excitement, the challenges, and the hard work associated with wheelchair basketball, and we could not be more proud to see CUNY move forward. Our women’s basketball team has been honored to play against the wheelchair basketball team at the Viscardi School over the past two years, and we will continue to do so in part of our community service projects. We thank Destini for blessing Hostos with her gifts.”

The next step for the program is another clinic scheduled for Aug. 24 at Hostos, where potential CUNY students will received a free day of training and information about the new team and program.

While Murray is set to finish her Hostos career after two summer courses, she has told coach Martin she will help in any way she can. She summed up her feelings about the entire experience through a quote from Olympic track and field champion Gail Devers.

“Keep your dreams alive. Understand to achieve anything requires faith and belief in yourself, vision, hard work, determination, and dedication. Remember all things are possible for those who believe.”

About Hostos Community College
Eugenio María de Hostos Community College is an educational agent for change that has been transforming and improving the quality of life in the South Bronx and neighboring communities for over half a century. Since 1968, Hostos has been a gateway to intellectual growth and socioeconomic mobility, as well as a point of departure for lifelong learning, success in professional careers, and transfer to advanced higher education programs.

Hostos offers 27 associate degree programs and two certificate programs that facilitate secure transfer to The City University of New York’s (CUNY) four-year colleges or baccalaureate studies at other institutions. The College has an award-winning Division of Continuing Education & Workforce Development that offers professional development courses and certificate-bearing workforce training programs. Hostos is part of CUNY, the nation’s leading urban public university, which serves more than 500,000 students at 25 colleges.

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