HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - For years, young athletes with physical disabilities were forced to travel outside the area to compete.
Sarah Switzer made the long drive to Birmingham's Lakeshore Foundation just for the chance to play wheelchair basketball.
"There was no other team in the state I could go and play with. It was a really big commitment for my parents but I really enjoyed it," the Madison teen says.
Now, the 16-year-old has a court much closer to home, thanks to the new UAH Ability Sport Network.
Working in partnership with Huntingdon College in Montgomery, ASN Director David Kyle says the network allows UAH to meet a big need in the community.
It gives these middle and high-school students some of the same opportunities their peers enjoy.
There are no out-of-pocket expenses for families. A grant from the Alabama Commission of Higher Education pays for uniforms, travel costs and adaptive equipment, like the special chairs used by the wheelchair basketball team.
"The sport chairs are very expensive...If you're familiar with high-end bicycles, it's the same kind of technology, very high-end, very custom," Kyle says.
ASN also has a boccia team that just started Monday.
Boccia is described by the official Paralympic Movement site as, "a game of strategy and accuracy that was originally designed to be played by people with cerebral palsy. Now, the sport includes athletes with impairments that affect motor skills."
Kyle describes it simply, as a lot of fun.
And that's the whole point of ASN - having fun, pushing boundaries and expanding dreams.
"If you have some sort of physical disability, you don't always dream like an 'able-bodied' dreams. So, this gives them a chance to dream," Kyle says.
Kyle believes some of these athletes may play at the college level or even go on to represent Team USA at the Paralympic Games.
But whether they do or not, isn't the point.
"The point is, they've got dreams and they realize, 'hey, I just kicked somebody's butt in a basketball game, maybe I can go to college. Maybe I can get a job. It's just small things like that... so, it's more than just the game," he says.
In the future, ASN hopes to include additional sports such as wheelchair tennis, seated volleyball and track and field.
For blind or visually-impaired athletes, beep baseball will start July 12.
In the long-term, Kyle's goal is to make the program self-sufficient, ensuring it survives with or without grant funding. He'd also like to one day see UAH with its own collegiate wheelchair basketball team.
But, in the short-term, he just hopes anyone who is interested, gives ASN a chance.
"Just come check it out. It's so much fun, I think you'll get hooked."
To sign up, just go to uah.edu/asn and click the "Sign Up Now" button. Fill out the form online. The information will go to Kyle and someone from ASN will be in touch.