Grade-schoolers and GLASA players play game of wheelchair football
By Bryan Bonato For Sun-Times Media October 28, 2013 8:36PM
Wheelchair football differs slightly around the country, with the version played by the GLASA maintaining many of the sport’s basic concepts.
Some players can serve as linemen and run interference for ball-carriers. Other players go out into routes and receive passes from the quarterback. Ball-carriers who are able to do so stick the ball in their lap after making a catch. Lake Forest Country Day players got an obvious kick out of going in motion before the quarterback starts the play.
Wheelchair football is played two-hand touch, but because trying to make a “tackle” requires removing one’s hands from the wheels, it’s not as easy as it would seem, especially with a skilled ball-carrier who can switch directions effectively.
GLASA’s rules grant offenses one rushing play per set of downs. First-down lines may be fixed, meaning it’s possible to have a first-and-one. When using a basketball court, the half-court line is used as the first-down line. Played outside in a parking lot, lines approximately 15 yards apart are used.
Because the sport is meant to accommodate players with different disabilities, some of the rules are flexible. Players who use motorized chairs only need to contact the ball for it to be considered a catch or make contact with their chair to get credit for a tackle. Collisions are common, of course, but the sport does not revolve around ramming wheelchairs.
Conversions after touchdowns are awarded one point for a pass and two points for a rush. Because kicks and punts are thrown, teams must declare when they are doing so.
Thursday’s exhibition had a playground-football atmosphere, but it was not difficult to imagine the game being played at a more serious level with structured offenses and defenses, especially in settings with more room to maneuver.
Updated: December 1, 2013 7:02AM
This is the No. 1 thing you need to know about the wheelchair football game played last week in the gym at Lake Forest Country Day School in which members of the school’s youth football team sat in wheelchairs and played a game of football with/against the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association’s real wheelchair football team:
The 90-minute exhibition game was scheduled to end at 6 p.m. But before it was over, players representing both GLASA and Lake Forest Country Day School were asking when the gym had to be locked up because they wanted to keep playing.
At 7 o’clock, the game was still going strong.
Those familiar with the Lake Forest-based GLASA know that it has a “Let no one sit on the sidelines” mantra, as the non-profit organization strives to provide athletic opportunities for physically challenged individuals throughout the area.
In that regard, the GLASA has been a part of many very visible athletic activities, such as road running, basketball, sled hockey, and tennis.
But football, before Thursday, was pretty much a hidden gem in the organization.
But now, thanks in large part to the efforts of an eighth-grader at Lake Forest Country Day School, wheelchair football is out in the sun.
Or in the gym, so to speak.
Wes Dixon is an eighth-grader at LFCDS and he plays hockey. He became familiar with the GLASA through the group’s sled hockey program. He’s also a football player — center for the LFCDS team that plays eight-man tackle football.
“I got engaged with GLASA through their sled hockey team, and then I did their Run/Walk/Roll charity 5K this September. As a football player. I figured that if I were disabled, this would be a great program to have available,” he said.
“I talked to David Olson (a GLASA officer and former president of the group). He had polio when he was a kid, and they didn’t have anything like this. Sports means so much. It teaches you so much, and it helps you feel you’re a part of something bigger than yourself. For somebody to not to have sports, I can’t imagine how hard that would be. That’s why I think what GLASA does is great.
“I’m hopeful we can do a couple of more events like this. I was talking to Tom (Daily, program manager for the GLASA), and he was telling me all the different sports they offer. I’d love to get some of our other teams involved, because some of these sports sound really cool.”
And just like that, thanks to one eighth-grader picking up the ball and literally rolling with it, we had a wheelchair football game.
For the contest, GLASA players were assigned to each side rather than competing against the Lake Forest Country Day team because obviously, the GLASA team is way better.
The GLASA team is, in fact, sponsored by the NFL Chicago Bears. It is the Bears that have provided jerseys for the GLASA players — in orange and blue, of course.
“We have 12 individuals with disabilities who play regularly,” said Daily. “When we first started, we also asked the guys to bring their friends. Not everybody can make it every week. There are times when the able-bodied friend comes and the disabled person doesn’t. I think that really says something about it. The intensity is still there. The sport is still there.”
As for competition, Daily said the sport is now taking root.
“There are two teams around here that play right now,” he said. “There’s one in (south suburban) Dolton. There’s also one based in Milwaukee, which is based off their basketball team. It’s just kind of a continuation, so they play football, basketball, and softball, one after another.”
GLASA offers 90 programs over 32 sports and is a year-round operation.
“We have coaches for every athlete, to train them to not only be adept but comfortable with every sport they want to get into,” said Susie Duttge, vice president of the GLASA. Events like this are great because they bring the disabled athlete into the mainstream. Everybody wants to feel like they’re a part of the mainstream of life.”
While the players had a great time, the biggest smile was on the face of Bob Whelan, who heads Lake Forest Country Day School.
“What we’re really trying to instill in the kids is the importance of recognizing that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. What I love about this is that one of our eighth-grade leaders, Wes Dixon, created this opportunity for him and his peers to get more deeply involved in the community,” Whelan said.
“This is something the kids came up with, and that just makes us exceptionally proud. That’s exactly the type of thing we hope to achieve. As a school, we encourage our kids to feel comfortable being uncomfortable. It’s through taking risks that there’s growth. With this event, we’ve gotten our kids out of their comfort zone, and they’re learning, they’re developing appreciation for experiences outside of their own, and they’re growing as a result.”
And having a ball in the process. Who said learning can’t be fun?