Three local men recently received accolades for their commitment to the growth and development of wheelchair basketball: Larry Labiak and Dan Ferreira, of West Beverly, and Bob Szyman, of Beverly Woods.
The National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) Hall of Fame inducted Labiak into its ranks as the pioneer for wheelchair basketball players becoming NWBA-certified referees and for officiating more than 2,500 games at all NWBA levels, including national championships, for 35 years.
Labiak contracted polio myelitis at an early age. He attended Jane A. Neal Elementary School and Walter S. Christopher Elementary School in Chicago, Morton East High School in Cicero and is an alumnus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) with a bachelor’s degree in radio and television and a master’s degree in advertising.
As a UIUC undergraduate, Labiak competed with the Illinois Gizz Kids wheelchair basketball and track-and-field teams and played intramural wheelchair football. A fierce competitor, Labiak is enshrined in the National Wheelchair Softball Association Hall of Fame for his play as a catcher and for serving as president of the association.
Following a broadcasting career in Fresno, Calif., Labiak sold durable medical equipment, mostly sports wheelchairs, before a 12-year stint in the Chicago Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, where he developed youth programs. He is currently the disability policy officer for the Chicago Park District, a position he has held for 14 years.
Ferreira is the first wheelchair basketball coach to be named Coach of the Year by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association. His team, Chicago Skyhawks, won the 2019 Illinois State High School Association wheelchair basketball championship.
Ferreira, a Massachusetts native, has played and coached wheelchair basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and was a graduate assistant coach at UIUC, where he earned a master’s degree in sports management. Ferreira, who uses a wheelchair because of osteogenesis imperfecta, is an adapted sport program and event coordinator for the Chicago Park District.
Szyman, a St. Kilian, Mt. Carmel, Chicago State University and UIUC alumnus, was inducted into the NWBA Intercollegiate Division Hall of Fame. The division recognized him for organizing the first wheelchair basketball games between two university-based women’s teams, coaching the UIUC Ms. Kids team to its first national championship, directing three national intercollegiate wheelchair basketball tournaments and for his relentless challenge to youngsters with physical disabilities to attend a university where they can be student/athletes.