Power Wheelchair Exhibition Brings Admiring Fans to Their Feet
Inaugural event at The College of Wooster draws enthusiastic and encouraging crowd
WOOSTER, Ohio — Timken Gymnasium was the site of another competitive athletic contest on Friday night, but this one was played on wheels. The inaugural power wheelchair soccer exhibition at The College of Wooster, sponsored by the newly formed student organization, PUSH (People United through Sports and Health) in collaboration with Wooster Community Hospital and the Adaptive Sports Program of Ohio (APSO), drew a large and admiring crowd. The event was designed to raise awareness about adaptive sports, where athletes with disabilities can compete with one another.
And compete they did. More than 20 athletes, ranging in age from 10-45 comprised three teams (Team Force, Rolling Thunder, and Columbus Crunch). Each of the participants used a power wheelchair to maneuver the oversized 13-inch soccer ball up and down the court in the four-on-four (three field players and one goalkeeper) contest.
“What you see out there are people who want to be competitive,” said Graham Ford, head men’s soccer coach and the driving force behind the establishment of PUSH. “This type of event gives them an outlet for their competitiveness.”
Each of the players relies on the power wheelchair because of limited mobility, which may have resulted from such afflictions as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or traumatic brain or spinal injuries. They operate the power chair in a variety of ways. Some use their hands or feet; others use their neck or other parts of their upper body.
Those who watched on Friday night couldn’t help but be inspired. “This was something that I really wanted to get involved in,” said Michelle Ring, president of PUSH and a member of the varsity women’s soccer team. “These athletes don’t want pity. They just want a chance to play.”
Indeed the participants played hard for an appreciative and encouraging crowd estimated at about 750. Included among the observers were current and former varsity athletes as well as players and coaches from soccer teams around the region and as far away as Valparaiso, Ind.
“It’s great to see the excitement in their faces when they’re playing,” said Bri Fulmer, a senior biology major and a member of the varsity women’s soccer team. “They want to be seen as athletes, just like us.”