Team Royal defeated Team Gold 5-3 in a full seven innings Thursday afternoon in the 37th annual NVWG wheelchair softball championship at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati.
CINCINNATI – Sam Ballard values the camaraderie at the National Veterans Wheelchair Games (NVWG)
Even in softball, that meant just as much to the 37-year-old Navy veteran as winning a gold medal.
Thanks to a three-run home run by Army veteran James Green and runs scored by Army veteran Carl Morgan and Ballard, Team Royal defeated Team Gold 5-3 in a full seven innings Thursday afternoon in the 37th annual NVWG wheelchair softball championship at the Duke Energy Convention Center in Cincinnati.
Ballard went 2-for-2, tripling and scoring a run in the top of the first inning and then adding a single in the top of the fifth.
He’s competing in his fourth NVWG, sponsored by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and just enjoyed playing on a team of fellow veterans and wheelchair users. Ballard served in the Navy from 1998-2001 and worked as an aviation ordnanceman.
“I grew up playing baseball, so I just like softball. It gives everybody a chance to play, too,” says Ballard, who sustained an L1/L2 injury after a gunshot wound in Norfolk, Va. “[I enjoy] the camaraderie, meeting different people, the chance to compete.”
Air Force veteran and Team Gold member Andy Bernt enjoys the atmosphere, too.
Bernt has transverse myelitis, an inflammation of both sides of one section of the spinal cord. Bernt brought a variety of hats and fun outfits for the Games and wore some of them during the softball championship. Team Gold’s pitcher Thursday, he tried to keep things entertaining, changing hats nearly every inning, He looked like he could’ve been from Texas one inning, to Vegas another to Hawaii. He even wore a lei in the seventh inning to try and psych out the Royal Blue team with his eccentricity.
“It’s just great that I can still play in a wheelchair. That’s the main thing – that we’re all veterans and the support of Cincinnati, the support of all the volunteers makes everything come true,” says Bernt, a Tampa, Fla., resident. “Hey, I’ll take silver, you know?”
For Team Gold, Navy veteran Joe Wittkamp hit an inside-the-park home run, while Marine Corps veteran Jesse Lind and Air Force veteran Ken Hernandez each had RBI groundouts. Army veteran Booker Foster, Air Force veteran Rodney Jones and Wittkamp each scored runs.
This year the softball championships only took two days, wherein years past the games were more spread out.
The NVWG continue through Saturday, with track, power soccer, trapshooting, boccia ball, quad rugby, obstacle course, swimming, weightlifting and quad weightlifting events going on Friday.