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Omaha Magazine

Megan Stackhouse Stands Tall on UNO Wheelchair Basketball Team

Nov 01, 2021 10:41AM ● By Kara Schweiss
woman with half buzz cut in athletic wheelchair

Photo by Bill Sitzmann    

University of Nebraska at Omaha child development major Megan Stackhouse has a kind face and pleasant demeanor that would make a youngster or an anxious parent feel at ease. 

She’s also extraordinarily competitive and an aggressive—even relentless—opponent. 

“I’ve been told I’m a different person on the court, that I’m the polar opposite of who I am off the court,” said Stackhouse, the only female player on UNO’s wheelchair basketball team. “I got a technical foul, six years old, my first tournament.” 

In her defense, that technical foul came after someone grabbed the youngster’s wheelchair and she slapped their hand in response. As amusing as the anecdote seems now, Stackhouse said, it was a hint of her on-court persona to come; when she is in uniform, something changes.

UNO coach Mike Kult has called Stackhouse a ‘silent assassin.’ But that is praising her team-first attitude, referring to her ability to offensively block on the side of or behind a defender in order to free a teammate to take a shot or receive a pass. It’s known as ‘setting the pick’ and Stackhouse can do this without the other defender realizing it is coming.

“In wheelchair basketball, setting picks is extremely important, and Megan excels in setting picks,” Kult said. “Picks will often allow one of her teammates to get open for an open or better shot.”  

Stackhouse was introduced to wheelchair basketball after her father saw a television news segment about the sport and took his young daughter to watch a tournament at UNO. Instantly captivated, she ended up playing over the next 13 years for the Nebraska Red Dawgs, a Nebraska Adaptive Sports team that participates in the youth division of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association. 

Stackhouse made the basketball team at UNO as a freshman and started that first year. She’s relatively petite and sits lower in her chair than her male opponents, which means, as she puts it: “I’m sneaky on the court.” Getting up at 4 a.m. to make daily practices and spending hours in the weight room is only part of the effort she’s put forth, Stackhouse said. 

“I had to fight, and fight hard, to prove to others and myself that I could be one of the boys and one of the top dogs on the court,” she recalled. Kult, who knew her from her time with the Red Dawgs, had confidence in her potential. 

“Megan is coachable and willing to go the extra mile. When she first joined the team, she had trouble making shots and her endurance was suspect. But because of hard work and willingness to work with our strength coach, by lifting weights and conditioning she has improved more than anyone else on the team,” he said. “She is a great example how putting in the work on and off the court does pay off.”

Stackhouse’s parents, Chadd and Laurie Stackhouse, said their daughter has always been active. She participated in programs at HETRA (Heartland Equine Therapeutic Riding Academy), which provided some physical and occupational therapy for many years; played wheelchair softball with the Nebraska Junior Barons for several seasons; and attended CHI Health’s Junior Wheelchair Sports and Recreation Camp in the summers, which introduced her to sports and adaptive activities, from archery to water-skiing. 

Basketball, however, continues to be her top choice as a sport. “Basketball is just a blast to play,” Stackhouse said. “I’ve been playing for 16 years now. I wouldn’t trade it for anything else, ever, if I had the choice to switch.”

As a student at Millard North, Stackhouse served as a manager for the girls’ varsity basketball team. 

“I started working out with them, as well as running clocks, and helping the other managers fill up waters, and pick up balls, and help out with drills. I did that my junior and senior year, and we went to state both times,” she said. “One week I took in five or six chairs and the players got in the chairs. They were like, ‘How do you do this every day?’ They had so much fun with that.”

It was a precursor to a presentation she made a few years later. Cheri Dickmeyer, founder and executive director of FITGirl Inc. (an organization that focuses on fitness and empowerment for girls), invited Stackhouse to bring her “powerful message” to FITGirl participants last summer. 

“I try to bring these incredibly strong-willed, amazing women like Megan to the program, [women] who can inspire these young girls to go out there and be themselves—face adversity and not give up—and to do what they need to do to follow their dreams,” Dickmeyer said.  

“I told them my story about how I got into basketball and I informed them that a girl can kick butt on a men’s team,” Stackhouse said. Aided by the Stackhouse family, FITGirl also brought in some sport wheelchairs so Stackhouse could teach the girls to maneuver through basketball drills. 

School is her first priority for now, Stackhouse said, but she’s ready for that next challenge, which may be the Paralympics Games.  

“I’ve been told I have Team USA potential,” she said. 

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This article originally appeared in the November 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.  

Photo by Bill Sitzmann