May 21, 2009
Wheelchair softball clinic puts paralyzed players back in the game
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News Service
Jessica Cooper slapped her first baseball off a tee at age 3. And by age 13, she was playing varsity for the Madison Central High School softball team.
But after a car accident left her paralyzed, Jessica thought her dugout days were over – until she heard about a way to play softball on wheels. “How does that work?” she asked.
On May 30, Jessica plans to find out firsthand at a free wheelchair softball clinic from noon to 5:30 p.m. at Trustmark Park in Pearl. “I’m really looking forward to it,” said the 15-year-old Madison resident. “It will be doing what I love.”
The clinic is hosted by Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s therapeutic recreation program. And program director Ginny Boydston says Jessica joins a growing list of people who are eager to try the sport.
“I’ve already got a list of 20 who are interested,” Boydston said. “People have been asking about it for awhile.”
Wheelchair softball got its start in the Midwest, and about 25 teams are now members of the National Wheelchair Softball Association, said association vice president Rick Cooper, who will lead the clinic.
“Here’s an opportunity to play America’s sport again. And once you get into it, you’re usually hooked,” he said. “It’s an excellent opportunity for people to realize there is life after a wheelchair.”
A minor league baseball player before he was injured, Cooper said wheelchair softball has all the competitive elements of the regular game. But there are a few notable differences. To keep wheelchairs from getting bogged down, the playing surface is typically a parking lot. Players also use a softer, 16-inch ball, which allows them to forgo gloves (which can get in the way when they’re trying to push their wheelchairs.)
The sport is appropriate for people with spinal cord injury, amputations or related disabilities. Each team is made up of a mixture of players with varying abilities, and every team must field at least one quadriplegic.
Boydston said Methodist Rehab is able to introduce wheelchair softball in Mississippi thanks to a $76,121 grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation. Begun by the late founder of Ameristar Casino, the foundation supports charities that benefit spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation.
The grant pays for softball equipment, as well as special sports wheelchairs for the players. Boydston said the Mississippi Braves generously provided a parking lot for a playing field. And Kroger is furnishing water and snacks for the clinic participants.
“It’s really exciting for us to offer this opportunity,” she said. “If there is enough interest, we will try to form a team.”
Jessica, for one, likes the sound of that. Not being able to play softball has left a void. “I played all year round,” she said. “I started out with T-ball at age 3 and worked my way up. It just totally got my mind off of everything. It was what I would do to blow off steam.”
A free wheelchair softball clinic is noon to 5:30 p.m. Saturday, May 30 in the parking lot of Trustmark Park in Pearl. Individuals with spinal cord injury, amputations or related disabilities are invited to attend. The event is sponsored by Methodist Rehabilitation Center, the Mississippi Braves, the National Wheelchair Softball Association and Kroger. It is funded by a grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation. For information or to confirm attendance, call Ginny Boydston, 601-364-3566.
A free wheelchair softball clinic hosted by Methodist Rehab will give Jessica Cooper a chance to get back to a game she loves. Before a car accident put her in a wheelchair, Jessica played softball year-round.
Jessica Cooper, 15, of Madison gets in a few swings in preparation for a wheelchair softball clinic on May 30 at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Before she was paralyzed in a car accident, Jessica played varsity softball for Madison Central High School.