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More MS news articles for October 2003

People in electric wheelchairs have a ball with new sport

Thursday, October 02, 2003
By Paul Novoselick
The Muskegon Chronicle

Fifteen-year-old Kaylie Malinowski can't shoot hoops. She can't catch or hit a pitched softball.

Because of cerebral palsy, she also can't run or even stand on her own.

But the Laketon Township teenager can play "Power Soccer" in her battery-powered wheelchair, something she had never done until last month.

"This is exciting, just to look at them out there," said Kaylie's mother, Julie Malinowski, as she watched two local Power Soccer teams try out the new sport at a clinic held at the Beach Elementary School gym in Fruitport Township. "Muskegon has always lacked recreation and leisure activities for kids in power chairs."

"This is the only true sport for people in power wheelchairs," said Alan Pomranka, the sports and recreation director for the Novi-based Michigan PVA. He helped organize the clinic that introduced Power Soccer to this area and West Michigan.

Pomranka, from Coldwater, said the sport is only for people in power wheelchairs. It is played with an oversized soccer ball on a 84-by-50-foot court -- conveniently, the same size as a regulation basketball court.

"They've been playing this on the West Coast for several years now, especially in California." Pomranka said. "I'm trying to bring it here to Michigan."

Power Soccer teams have four players each, which includes a goalie. The goal is 25 feet wide by 15 feet deep, he said.

Pomranka connected with Karen Young, an occupational therapist with the Muskegon Public School District, at a conference on the east side of the state where she learned about the program.

Helping Young with the recent clinic was Lynda Chlopan, a physical therapist with the Fruitport Public School District. About 15 students with power wheelchairs have shown interest in the sport, Young said, and nine attended the clinic.

The only mandatory equipment for a Power Soccer player are leg-guarding panels made of high-density plastic that will withstand blows without breaking. The guards used at the Beach School clinic cost $130 each, even though they were made at cost by a company in Jackson.

Adults can also participate; the age of players may run from 5 to 49 years old.

According to the Internet Web site, the sport can be quite competitive. It has been going for more than 14 years; the United States, Canada, Japan and Denmark are currently fielding teams and tournaments.

People with quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, head trauma, stroke and other disabilities can participate.

Young said the sport benefits young and older players socially, emotionally and physically.

Pomranka said there are few guidelines that limit participation in the new recreational sport for people with disabilities.

"Basically if they are in a power chair and can understand the rules, which are similar to traditional soccer, they can go," Pomranka said.

"One of the big things is players can't back up, otherwise that's a foul," he said. "That's because a lot of people can't turn their heads far enough around to be able to see what's coming."

The goalie is the only player who can back up.

"It could get very dangerous if someone catches a wheel and tips over a rider and a very expensive wheelchair," he said.

The most difficult task may be refereeing.

"The hard part of refereeing a game is telling the difference between turning sharply and backing up," Pomranka said, which is why he has asked for a $25,000 grant from the Christopher Reeve Foundation to hold a referee clinic that would draw people from all across the state.

In the meantime, people at last weekend's clinic said they liked what they were seeing.

"It just seemed like the kids in power chairs didn't belong anywhere," Julie Malinowski said. "They didn't have a chance to partake in any team sports.

"Maybe now they do."

Copyright © 2003, Muskegon Chronicle