What to do on the first Saturday of shotgun season for deer, when the woods are full of hunters? Sometimes you have to escape indoors! I took a trip with my partner Maribeth to Durham, NH to observe power soccer in action. We were in advance of the first snowstorm of the season, so our return ride home turned out to be an outdoor adventure of slow driving in snow and icy conditions, but it was worth it!
We arrived at the Wittmore Center on the University of New Hampshire Campus in time for a skills clinic, in which the Northeast Passage team, the Wildcats, were practicing their skills with the oversized soccer ball that is officially used in power soccer. Five team members in their power wheelchairs took turns at 3 stations. There was a goal shooting station, with 3 soccer balls placed at three shooting points per person. A slalom of seven orange cones ran the length of the basketball court, in which each person had to travel and tightly circle the cones without bumping them. The final station was an identical slalom that was navigated with the soccer ball in traditional weave around alternating cones. Watching this warmup activity gave us a good sense of each player's ball handling skills.
Before the skills clinic was over, the team from Mass Hospital School rolled in, also in blue uniform shirts. These two teams are the only ones in the area, so they have played before and, prior to this scrimmage game, they too warmed up by running through the 3 stations. We could see right away they had some killer players. As residents at their school, they have easy access to regular practice and play among their schoolmates, whereas NEP team members must travel independently to a gym to practice during a 12 week season twice a year.
Power soccer has been around for some twenty years, though it is new to me. The game has its own standards and rules. Two twenty minute halves are played with a ten minute break in between. Each team has 3 players, plus the goalie, on the court at any one time. Power chairs are fit with a plastic guard on the front end, which is used to protect the players' feet and aids in working the ball. For the rest of the official picture, visit http://www.powersoccerusa.net/
Disabilities represented on the power soccer court this day included cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. A mother of one of the players sitting behind us in the bleachers, told us that typically the players with MD were often quite calculating in their moves and the players with CP had more difficulty getting their bearings in the middle of the game. Yet as far as we could see, one of the most active players on the NEP team had CP. Though he moved his chair jerkily and was non-verbal, he had a clear grasp of the action, was a quick responder and played some great defense. Two young women on the Wildcat team showed definite prowess at being in the right place to turn the ball back towards their opponent's goal. One of these women alternated playing goalie with a young man who was prone to hamming it up with the audience while the action was happening on the opposite end of the court. They were a fun and likable team, but alas they were no match for the Mass Hospital School!
We marveled at one player, whom Maribeth dubbed "the Pele of power soccer", who was always in the right place at the right time to stop most attacks from the Wildcats. The female player of the MHS team was barracuda-like in her ability to sneak up and steal the ball. Another player was a veritable wall of defense all by himself. Their goalie saw less action on his end of the court. The final score was 5 to 2. Everyone got a medal and enjoyed the outing and the pizza party afterwards. We beat it back home just before dark.