Robert ‘Bob’ Ardinger, wheelchair basketball star and disability rights advocate, dies

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Bob Ardinger, pictured in 1975, coined the team name “‘Baltimore Ravens”’ for his wheelchair basketball team.

Robert “Bob” Ardinger, a flashy wheelchair basketball player who fought for disability rights, died of complications from pneumonia April 10. He was 74.

Robert Stanley Ardinger grew up in Catonsville. His father, Joseph Ardinger, was a doctor who delivered thousands of babies at Saint Agnes Hospital in Southwest Baltimore; his mother, Irma Ardinger, was a homemaker who fought the school system to include her son. In 1950 as a 2-year-old, Mr. Ardinger contracted polio, which severely damaged and limited growth in his left leg.


“He didn’t like to be called disabled. He would say, ‘Call me Bob,’” younger brother Doug Ardinger said.

Mr. Ardinger walked with a brace and used a wheelchair only for basketball. He fell in love with sports at Camp Greentop in Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, which was built in 1937 as part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and hosted a camp for kids with polio and cerebral palsy.


In high school, Mr. Ardinger shot baskets in the driveway and began his life of activism. When two-story Woodlawn High School had only stairs, Mr. Ardinger and friends chained themselves to the front door demanding accessibility. Doug said per family legend, Mr. Ardinger used the same tactic at Memorial Stadium outside a Colts game.

Mr. Ardinger graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park and later earned education degrees from Morgan State University and the Johns Hopkins University.

Mr. Ardinger, a lifelong Edgar Allan Poe fan, told The Sun in 1996 that he coined the team name “Baltimore Ravens” for a wheelchair basketball team that traveled the country in the 1970s. In 1974 when the Ravens upset New Jersey to make the semifinals, Mayor William Donald Schaefer proclaimed March 28, 1974, “Baltimore Ravens Day.”

The Sun in 1996 wrote: “Ardinger wanted to crush the image of disabled people as poster children — angelic, asexual, helpless and always smiling — and wheelchair basketball seemed the perfect way to do it. He didn’t just want to be a dominant player, he wanted to be a personality: the fast-breaking showoff, the long-haired loudmouth, the guy who thought nothing of wheeling out of bounds to ask a girl in the stands for a date. Hardly a game went by without No. 13 diving out of his chair to grab a ball. He was the Ravens’ Dennis Rodman, minus the tattoos and earrings.”

“I wanted it to be a glamorous sport,” Mr. Ardinger told The Sun. “I wanted to convey that this wasn’t just guys with disabilities, but athletes — good-looking, entertaining, healthy people.”

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The Ravens are still around as the Maryland Ravens, a nonprofit providing recreation and social opportunities through wheelchair basketball. Mr. Ardinger also competed at the Paralympics and Pan American Games in both swimming and wheelchair basketball, traveling to Brazil, Mexico, England and Belgium before returning to Maryland to start his advocacy work.

“He was really strong with a lot of upper-body strength,” Doug said of his older brother. “He liked to score on the fast break.”

Robert "Bob" Ardinger was founder and president of Ardinger Consulting & Associates.

Mr. Ardinger brought some of his basketball court bravado to his career in policy and advocacy.


“I think he saw somebody had to make the noise and make it happen, and he was perfectly fine being the guy yelling, ‘People with disabilities have to survive, too, you know,’” Doug said. “It was like basketball. He was kind of a showman. He could be effective, and he would draw attention to himself, not for the pity, but to make the point.”

Mr. Ardinger was founder and president of Ardinger Consulting & Associates, which reviewed programs, policies and building plans for accessibility compliance. As a lobbyist in Washington, Mr. Ardinger co-wrote regulations for the Department of Housing and Urban Development and fair housing legislation. As a program manager for HUD, he oversaw a nationwide program to implement the accommodation requirements of Section 504 in all assisted housing programs.

Mr. Ardinger lived in Columbia since the mid-1980s and in 1990 married his wife, Cheryl Kent. He learned sign language because she is deaf.

Mr. Ardinger is survived by his wife; younger brother; sister-in-law, Cynthia; and nieces, Alexandra, Samantha and Erica.