My Opinion – Touchdown

Make way for wheelchair football

The gridiron has some new athletes as wheelchair football makes its debut


November is such a great time of year with all the sports activities, Thanksgiving and beautiful fall weather.

When it comes to sports, November is the month that seems to offer something for almost everyone. Whether you want to watch or play, there’s plenty of football, soccer, volleyball, basketball, hockey and so much more this time of year. There might even be a bit of baseball in the first few days of the month if the World Series goes six or seven games.

Football usually gets much of the attention right now and for good reason. The NFL and major college teams are deep into their regular seasons, colleges in the lower divisions and high schools are going into the postseason, and rivalry games at all levels normally take place about now.

Whether it’s in person or on TV, it’s fun to watch football, but for a long time, all people with spinal-cord injury and disease (SCI/D) could do was watch. There have been plenty of sports and recreational activities that have been opened to people with SCI/D over the years, and I’m happy to say that football is now one of them.

The USA Wheelchair Football League is giving people with SCI/D the opportunity to finally play the game that’s so popular in the United States. Organized by Move United, the league began in 2019, but it hasn’t started until this year because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

SPORTS ’N SPOKES was there when the league held its first tournament Sept. 10–12 at WestWorld of Scottsdale in Scottsdale, Ariz. Six teams from across the country participated in the tournament, and we detail the event, the players, coaches and the rules in Are Your Ready For Some … Wheelchair Football? on page 20.

The tournament sounded like a great success, and it’s wonderful to see new sports being brought into the adaptive arena. I’m especially happy to see a sport as rough and tumble as football being played by people with SCI/D.

I write that because there might be some folks who think wheelchair football isn’t “real football” or that people with SCI/D can’t handle the sport’s physical nature. Those people need to attend a tournament or watch some clips of a game online (they should probably also check out quad rugby while they’re at it).

Although the rules have been adjusted to accommodate players in wheelchairs, the game is essentially as physical and tough as it’s always been. Players block, throw the ball, make catches and hit hard. As someone from Move United says in the article, “Those guys are playing football.”

The fact that they’re “playing football” is fantastic, but it’s the context of the entire event that really impresses me. It’s one thing to have an opportunity to try an adaptive sport such as football at a clinic, but it’s something bigger when you can play it on a regular basis as part of a team in an organized league.

It wasn’t that long ago when sports for people with SCI/D were limited to a relatively small handful of opportunities. The chance to participate in any type of adapted sport may have been far and few between, too, with a clinic here and a tournament there.

Now, you can find a wide range of sports and recreational activities to suit your abilities and taste. Better still, many of those events are taking place in associations, leagues and tournaments that stretch from coast-to-coast.

The USA Wheelchair Football League’s creation is another terrific step forward in the advancement of adaptive sports. I hope the league continues to grow and becomes something you read about regularly in the pages of SPORTS ’N SPOKES.

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