Local | Volunteer Salute

Blending two loves: hoops and helping others

Michael J. Rosenkrantz (center) coaches Tucson Lobos players Karl Yares (left) and Arthur Parson at the National Wheelchair Basketball tournament in Louisville, Ky., on March 31, 2017. (Courtesy Rosenkrantz)

Why shouldn’t we care about other people, Michael J. Rosenkrantz asks rhetorically, adding that he refuses to live a selfish lifestyle. 

“I feel like it’s really important to think about the larger community, and it’s not just the Jewish community — it’s bigger,” says Rosenkrantz. “But in the Jewish faith, there’s a lot of talk about giving back, and I definitely try to do that.”

Rosenkrantz, 60, is a Los Angeles native who moved to Tucson in September from Nepal to teach alongside Peter Hughes, head coach of the University of Arizona Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team, and learn the intricacies of wheelchair basketball.

He’s also a volunteer coach for the Tucson Lobos, Southern Arizona’s community wheelchair basketball team, which offers recreational play and Division 3 competition recognized by the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

He chatted with the AJP on Friday, March 31, in between games at the National Wheelchair Basketball tournament in Louisville, Ky., saying he hoped that the Lobos could turn around their 1-2 record with one game left in the series.

Michael J. Rosenkrantz speaks at the International Conference on Disability Equality and Accessibility in Chennai, India, on Dec. 20, 2013.

About eight years ago, Rosenkrantz linked up with Voluntary Service Overseas — a London-based organization that offers international volunteer placements for professional positions in medicine, education and human rights advocacy.

He moved to New Delhi, India, in March 2009 for a volunteer position at the National Trust for the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment Department, an observatory body designed to assure protections for people living with autism, cerebral palsy or other physical and mental disabilities.

This three-year tenure at the National Trust launched his work with people living with disabilities, Rosenkrantz says, and the next step was marrying his greatest passions: volunteer work and basketball.

His love of hoops prompted him to take on a volunteer coaching position at a local YMCA in New Delhi. During his first trip back to the United States, in June 2011, Rosenkrantz met Dan Altan, a founding member of Wheelchair Athletes Worldwide, a nonprofit corporation that provides used sport wheelchairs to developing countries throughout the world. The nonprofit launched a handful of wheelchair basketball workshops in November 2011 in New Delhi and Visakhapatnam.

Then, in June 2012, Rosenkrantz secured a coaching position for the Nepal Army Wheelchair Basketball team. He also got involved with ENGAGE, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to empowering youth living with disabilities by promoting volunteer services based in Kathmandu. He worked with the organization’s co-founders to incorporate adaptive sports into its programming.

In May 2013, Rosenkrantz facilitated WAW donating 11 sports wheelchairs to ENGAGE. And last summer the first annual wheelchair basketball league was held in Nepal, with the second competition scheduled to kick off in Kathmandu in a few months, he says.

Rosenkrantz also worked at World Jewish Relief, a London-based international nonprofit that helps impoverished communities with job skills, elderly assistance programs and emergency response initiatives for refugees and victims of natural disasters.

When he returned to the States from Nepal, he expected there to be more services for people living with disabilities, but found there are huge gaps. So he and a few local advocates are starting a nonprofit organization, Southern Arizona Adaptive Sports, which will create continuity for adaptive sports being offered, expand the amount of wheelchairs sports available and reach out to younger wheelchair athletes.   

“What we’re going to do is hopefully fill the gap to offer a wide range of community sports,” he says. “The UofA offers a lot now. We’ll be working with the UofA and bringing more disability sports to the Southern Arizona community.

“And we have aspirations of starting a junior wheelchair basketball team, for example.”

He recently secured a program/development manager position with Iskashitaa Refugee Network, a group of Tucson volunteers and international refugees who glean and harvest local produce for redistribution.

Rosenkrantz says he has learned a lot about tikkun olam, Hebrew for “repairing the world,” from his son, Daniel, who is a monk at the Self-Realization Fellowship, an Indian spiritual school of thought founded by Paramahansa Yogananda that teaches ancient science and philosophy of yoga and meditation.

“I think it’s important to give back, and even though I’m 60,” says Rosenkrantz, he stays active, playing basketball, swimming and riding his bike. “I want to keep going, until I’m 100, hopefully. And for me, this lifetime or this time, is really about learning to serve and doing my best to not let my ego get in the way.”

Whether he is spending time with the Lobos or helping ENGAGE in Nepal, he says the greatest gift of being a volunteer is the work itself.

“It’s not about the money, it’s about really doing some social good,” he says.