The sports phenomenon in America is vast with parents easily spending significant amounts of money on association dues, uniforms and tournaments. Children are enrolled in sports to provide an avenue of physical fitness, and/or to attain a social status. Youth sports develop confidence, offer a sense of achievement, and build leadership qualities, cooperation, agility, speed, strength, endurance and the ability to make decisions and accept responsibility for one’s actions.
As a parent of a child with Spina Bifida, I sought an avenue for my child to take part in sports. As a toddler it was easy to assimilate Mel into the recreational options of the community. But as she reached preschool age, the ability to provide the same opportunities as her typical peers was dwindling. As Mel grew, her role in community sports decreased to watching and relying on others. Sporting events for those with significant cognitive challenges fell short of providing her with stimulation and a feeling of achievement.
Children like Mel, who are differently-abled, are often sidelined due to their inability to participate in sports on the same level as their able bodies peers. This isolation leads to missed social opportunities, weight gain and missed fitness and motor skills development opportunities. According to the CDC, Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese. In 2009, more than 20% of the kids in Texas were considered obese. Research by the National Spina Bifida Associated indicated that by age 6, 50% of children who have Spina Bifida are overweight, and in adolescence and adulthood over 50% are obese. I did not want this outcome for Mel
Wheelchair sports were the missing link. Wheelchair sports provided an opportunity for Mel to improve fitness level, improve social skills, improve cognitive processing, confidence, decision-making and follow through. Recreational and competitive sports also provided Mel a peer group of children with similar strengths and weaknesses. This group discuss their world and problem-solve similar challenges. I have learned so much from listening to them talk about life experiences.
Texas has a few great wheelchair sport programs and I have just heard that UTA is expanding their program to include female wheelchair basketball. I have listed I few I know of:
The Austin River City Rec’ers is a non-profit community based wheelchair basketball team which serves Austin’s citizens with physical disabilities. http://www.austinrecers.org/
The Longview Heat is a team which gives the disabled children in East Texas the chance to take part in team sports.
The Dallas Jr Wheelchair Mavericks program offers wheelchair basketball team for children with physical disabilities otherwise not offered in our local community based programs. http://www.dallasjuniorwheelchairmavericks.org/
The Southwest Wheelchair Athletic Association provides sports and recreation opportunities for people with physical and visual disabilities by facilitating, advocating, and developing a regional community-based outreach program. This site has information on many different wheelchair sporting programs. http://www.swaasports.org/home
The Dallas Wheelchair Tennis Club offers year round programming in the way of beginners clinics, advanced training/drills clinics, league play, tournaments, integrated up-down events (able-bodied & wheelchair players mixed doubles), exhibitions, and subsidizes for player expenses, including equipment, travel, and training.