Several years ago, I had the pleasure of covering a wheelchair bocce event in the Little Italy section of Baltimore. The afternoon was nothing short of phenomenal. Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks has an excellent advocate for wheelchair sports named Mike Naugle, who is the city's program coordinator for therapeutic recreation. A Paralympian, Mike has worked hard to establish athletic programs for individuals with physical challenges. He's forever thinking outside the box, seeking new and interesting opportunities.
Watching athletes in wheelchairs roll bocce balls alongside their able-bodied counterparts, and hearing the running banter between the two groups, I realized that plenty of opportunities exist for us to create events where people with various challenges can try new sports. I'm not talking about high-level competitions, but about good old recreation. It increases the use of your facilities, but far more important, it increases quality of life.
Tennis, racing and basketball are well-known examples of sports that have been adapted for wheelchair users, but there are potentially plenty of others. In Little Italy, it was wheelchair bocce, something that came about because someone was willing to make it happen. What can you think of? Whiffleball? Disc golf? Broomball? The opportunities are out there.
Want to reach out to potential wheelchair athletes? Contact V.A., rehab and Shriners hospitals, physical or occupational therapists, neurologists, wheelchair dealers, medical supply dealers, disabled sports groups, schools (all levels, from elementary schools to colleges), home-school parent groups, amputee centers and more. Since patient privacy is a concern for many organizations, see if they'll pass along a flyer, or if you can post a message to any e-list they might have. If you can get a local reporter interested in the story (as I was), your chances of finding players are even better.
Oh, and one other thing: When you hold your event, make sure you have plenty of handicap-accessible seating. These events tend to draw spectators who require it. Fully welcome and accommodate the needs of spectators, and they might come back as athletes next time.