For years, Kipp Watson has been pleading with various people at the University of New Mexico to offer and promote a wheelchair basketball league. In June, Watson went public with allegations that UNM is violating The Americans with Disabilities Act by “blatantly disregarding its obligations to provide equal sports opportunities for student-athletes with disabilities.”

Watson owns the Guinness World Record for most consecutive free throws from the foul line while sitting in a wheelchair after making 12 baskets in a row at the McDermott Athletic Center in Rio Rancho in 2019. He is also the owner of Rio Rancho Road Runners, a wheelchair basketball team with the long-term goal of creating a league that promotes wheelchair basketball by allowing people with disabilities and those without disabilities to mix on the same teams.

Watson’s goal now is to push UNM to have a wheelchair basketball team for its students.

“What do we want? The same thing that any student-athlete could reasonably expect in our state’s biggest and most highly budgeted educational institution: equal sports opportunities,” Watson said.

The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that students with disabilities be provided equal opportunity for participation in interscholastic, club and intramural athletics programs offered or sponsored by a school.

Watson said UNM hasn’t offered wheelchair basketball since the late 1990s. He has sent numerous letters to UNM Athletic Director Eddie Nuñez, UNM Director of Recreational Services Jim Todd and other high-ranking officials at the university to express his concerns.

UNM Chief Marketing & Communications Officer Cinnamon Blair responded to an email sent to both Nuñez and Todd seeking comment.

“UNM celebrates diversity, inclusiveness, and authenticity in all of its programs, and is committed to providing an inclusive athletic and recreational environment for both the UNM community and visitors,” Blair said. “The UNM Department of Athletics complies with the ADA in offering equal sports opportunities for all eligible student-athletes who participate in its current NCAA Division I sports/programs. UNM’s club sports program, under UNM Recreational Services, is ADA compliant in its offerings, and also provides adaptive programs and events for the UNM community.”

Blair also sent the following regarding Watson’s allegations:

  • The UNM Department of Athletics has no purview over club sports at UNM; within the department’s purview are the NCAA Division I intercollegiate sports/programs offered by the University
    • The NCAA does not include wheelchair basketball
    • Student-athlete scholarships are specific to the NCAA Division I sports offered by UNM Athletic teams
    • The UNM Department of Athletics budget is wholly separate from that of UNM Recreational Services
  • UNM Recreational Services promotes Adaptive Programs & Events 
  • UNM Recreational Services has an ongoing survey for those interested in Adaptive Sports (launched about 6 months ago and closes 12/31/2025)
  • UNM Recreation Services offers a designated space and time for wheelchair basketball teams and individuals to play in an “Open Gym” format (open to the community)

Watson said a total of 21 hours, spread over seven Saturdays, were made available for wheelchair basketball at Johnson Gym during the spring semester and the availability was not properly promoted by the school. Watson was still able to field a team but said that 21 hours in seven weeks isn’t enough to maintain a team, which hurts local athletes with disabilities.

“UNM gives out athletic scholarships to attract thousands of student-athletes, but not a single scholarship to attract a student for an adaptive or inclusive sports program,” Watson said. “Athletes with disabilities have been forced to attend colleges out of state because of the lack of an opportunity to play on an accredited wheelchair basketball team in our own state. The absence of a Lobos scholarship program that supports adaptive sports teams illustrates the hostile environment that athletes have had to endure at UNM.”

Watson claims that UNM’s refusal to plan for ADA compliance and recruit wheelchair basketball players and coaches is proof of “its intent to continue with unlawful discriminatory practices of past and present.”

In 2019, Watson received a response to a letter requesting UNM to establish a wheelchair basketball team he sent to UNM President Garnett Stokes. Associate Vice President of Student Services Tim E. Gutierrez replied to the letter.

“Your request to have a UNM wheelchair basketball team is a project which we have attempted to establish before with little success,” Gutierrez wrote. “The primary reason for this lack of success revolves around the number of students required to establish an on-going wheelchair basketball team.”

Gutierrez also wrote that UNM and Stokes are interested in working with Watson in addressing the issue. But more than four years later, Watson is still waiting for a wheelchair basketball team at UNM.

“UNM has dealt with complaints of ADA discrimination with a wall of silence and administrative policies deliberately limiting wheelchair basketball to 21 hours per semester without any budget comparable to those allocated to existing interscholastic teams,” Watson said.