On Saturday, Feb. 4, that same fire took the shape of power wheelchairs and an oversized soccer ball. The Power Wheelchair Soccer Tournament hosted teams from Indiana and New York at Fairlawn Mennonite Church in Apple Creek.
With every goal scored, the lines blurred between disability and ability—which is exactly what Lisa Followay intended. It’s precisely what she’s been striving for since her own son, Casey Followay, was diagnosed with spina bifida 15 years ago.
Currently, she is the executive director of ASPO, which is a nonprofit organization that provides inclusive sports for individuals with physical disabilities. Followay runs the program out of Wooster and shares hope of stretching the cause throughout Ohio.
“Our soccer athletes love the sport and love every opportunity they get to play. They, of course, would have preferred to win one of their games at the tournament but still had a great time,” said Followay.
Team CNY of New York won the championship game and all preceding games. Turnstone Flyers of Indiana took second place in the championship game. The Turnstone Furious Flyers of Indiana took third with team Force of ASPO coming in fourth place.
“The best part about power wheelchair soccer is that it is the first sport specifically designed for power wheelchair users. These athletes are lower functioning physically and typically are not able to participate in other adaptive sports that require more physical strength. The mental element, however, is still very much a part of the game,” Followay continued.
The differences between power wheelchair soccer and a typical game of soccer were minimal. The rules remained the same, with adaptations for the chairs. The players were also required to have a foot guard attached to the wheelchair, allowing them to kick, strike and hit.
“The players hone their skills in controlling their chair, watching the ball and developing strategies on the field of play. I love it when I watch the athletes play and see the look of determination on their faces. When they take their place on the field, everything related to their disability and their daily struggles are removed and all that remains are athletes playing the sport they love,” Followay said.
Followay also noted the awareness factor of her work, which remains the undertone of each activity. Not only do the families become aware of the athletics offered, but the community is also introduced to the phenomenon that is adaptive sports.
Likewise, awareness is the first step toward improved opportunities. And improved opportunities can mean better chances of acceptance and appreciation—which is exactly what Followay intended.
“It is at these events that they are surrounded by other athletes facing the same and/or similar struggles and feel at home because everyone there gets it and doesn’t stare at them or ask them questions. It’s great for the athletes socially, mentally and physically. The benefits of this sport and other adaptive sports are very therapeutic and have been proven to increase the overall health and wellness of individuals with disabilities,” Followay concluded.
Sandy Lane, whose son, Vincent Lane, participates in soccer, spoke of the chance ASPO has given her son to spend time with other kids with similar disabilities. In school, there aren’t many students like him. But ASPO’s sports allow them to fit in.
“I think it’s fantastic. It gives the opportunity for all these kids to participate in a sport on a level playing field,” said Lane. “It’s a great opportunity to meet other families like ours.”
Published: February 8, 2012