Adaptive Sports – Bring the Joy of Team Sports to Athletes of All Abilities
When Hunter Pochop was 3 years old, he was an introverted preschooler with spina bifida. During the past five years, Hunter, now 8, has flourished, thanks to his participation in the Adaptive Sports & Recreation Association (formerly the Adaptive Sports Foundation). The San Diego nonprofit athletic organization serves children and adults with permanent physical disabilities.
“I’ve seen him grow and mature, and I’ve seen him develop camaraderie with his friends there,” says Jacqueline Pochop of Vista about her son’s participation in the association’s wheelchair basketball league. “It’s taught him sportsmanship and a skill, and he’s also learning to become more independent.”
Adaptive Sports & Recreation Association (ASRA) offers year-round competitive and recreational sports leagues, drawing about 300 athletes who regularly participate. Teams practice and scrimmage against each other, and travel to play other adaptive sports teams in places such as Phoenix and Berkeley. While leagues are offered in sports such as wheelchair soccer, wheelchair rugby, and adaptive cycling, wheelchair basketball is extremely popular, says Executive Director Jonathan Richards. The year-round league plays at Municipal Gym in downtown San Diego.
“One of the biggest reasons is because they are part of a team—it’s one of the first times they are playing with their peers who are in a similar situation,” he says of the sport, which is fairly similar to college standup basketball. “Often during P.E. at school, they are either on the sidelines while everyone else is playing or they’re rolling on a track. This is one of the first times they are part of a group of people working toward a common goal, and that empowers them and builds their self-esteem.”
Athletes in the leagues are required to meet academic standards, and must push themselves in their wheelchairs without help. “They have to learn how to maneuver chairs and build core and arm strength, and all the different things they are learning translate into their daily lives,” says Richards. “It gives them confidence and gives parents confidence. It allows parents an opportunity to see what their kids can do.”
In some situations, the kids can get financial help for college. “It actually can lead them to college scholarships—not just academic but sports,” Richards says. “Some colleges have adaptive sports programs and we are a heavily recruited program.”
While the sports leagues for high school students and adults run throughout the year, children’s league play runs from September through April, with the summer focus on the Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp. About 70 kids from throughout the country come for the five-day camp.
Richards says, “Two days are at Mission Bay, where we do about seven different water sports such as kayaking, sailing, and water tubing. Then for the final three days we are at Southwestern College, where we play archery, basketball, tennis, soccer, golf—we do about 15 different sports. It’s designed to give them the experience you or I or their brothers and sisters get at a camp.”
ASRA also offers 12–15 sports clinics per year, with 10 of them in the summer. These can include beach days at Del Mar, where participants can try riding the waves with the lifeguards, or skiing at Big Bear.
“The clinics give us an opportunity to see where our athletes’ interests are. If someone wants a tennis clinic, we can try it for a day,” Richards says.
Claudia Lee of Carlsbad, whose 15-year-old son, Andrew, has played wheelchair basketball for five years, has seen how the program has affected her son’s life. “He’s developed his leadership skills, he pushed hard to learn to shoot a basket from a sitting position, and he made more effort with his grades—it’s just good for all the reasons a mom wants her able-bodied child on a sports team.”
Visit the AdaptiveSportsandRec.org website for information on league and clinic schedules and summer camps.
Anastacia Grenda is a freelance writer who lives with her family in Encinitas.