City of Residence: Kathleen
Occupation: Area coordinator-coach for the Houston County Adaptive Sports Program
QUESTION: The Houston County Sharks have become quite a state-title winning team.
ANSWER: In the five years weve been a team, weve won seven state titles: three varsity and four junior varsity titles.
QUESTION: What titles?
ANSWER: Weve won three wheelchair handball titles, two wheelchair basketball titles, including the one we just won, and two wheelchair football titles.
QUESTION: Are those the only sports the Sharks participate in?
ANSWER: Weve added track to the program but our track athletes participate through programs at their own schools. Min Soo Kim of Houston County High School has won a state title for shot put. In the other sports, the Sharks are a single county-wide team from many schools.
QUESTION: Which schools and age-range?
ANSWER: Right now, our Shark teams youngest member is a fifth-grader and it goes up to seniors. There are seven participating schools: Matt Arthur Elementary, Feagin Mill, Bonaire and Northside middle schools and Houston County, Warner Robins, Northside and Perry high schools.
QUESTION: How many athletes do you generally have in the program?
ANSWER: We started with six players and have grown to about 12 now. With the exception of one or two athletes, its the same team for wheelchair handball, basketball and football. We still have four of the original six on the team.
QUESTION: Thats a lot of titles to rack up in five years.
ANSWER: We started out slow and really struggled at first. We didnt have but one person who could even make a goal when we first started. The team had to learn the skills and we had to learn how to coach them as well. Winning is great, of course, but the real excitement for us is seeing the progress and growth in our players. Were beating teams now we dreaded playing when we started and our players have grown in ability and in confidence. Thats the most rewarding part.
QUESTION: So you see value in the program besides the wins?
ANSWER: In so many ways. It breaks stereotypes about physically handicapped students overall. I hear them talking about how it allows them to build friendships others across the county whereas before maybe there wasnt anybody they could really relate to about their handicap at their school. It draws them out and makes them more comfortable in areas they might not normally venture in. It also allows them to joke around in ways they may not at their school. Its no big deal to hear team members say something like, Dude, you left your leg over here, whereas among non-handicapped students it might be uncomfortable knowing what to say or not to say. It gives them a chance to be themselves with people who understand. Theres a value for anybody in a sports program. Our kids parents will tell you the program has helped their children do more and want to do more. And its made them a little tougher.
QUESTION: Define the adaptive sports program.
ANSWER: Its not Special Olympics. Its for physically handicapped athletes and a lot of our kids are straight A students and in honors programs. We follow the same Georgia High School Association standards like no pass, no play. Except for track, the sports are played in wheelchairs even for those who might not normally be in a wheelchair. Someone may use crutches but they have to play in a wheelchair. Thats one reason there was such a learning curve at first.
QUESTION: Do your sport seasons follow the able-bodied team season?
ANSWER: No. Our seasons are shorter. Handball is from September to November, basketball January to March and football March to April. In fact, we had our first football game last Saturday.
QUESTION: Where do you practice and play? And whens the next game?
ANSWER: We practice and play in the Bonaire Middle School gym. We host tournaments, too, and have them at one of the high schools. Our next games are Saturday at noon and 2 p.m. Theres a schedule online at www.adaptedsports.org. Look under the adaptedSports tab, then wheelchair football then schedule. People should come watch; youll be hooked. Games are free and its the best entertainment youll have all weekend. We get a lot of community support and other teams love to come play us because they know therell be a crowd.
QUESTION: You mentioned coaches, who are your coaches?
ANSWER: Im big on handball. Coach Stephen Roberson is new this year and hes at Warner Robins High School. We have a community coach, Ryan Brown. He has cerebral palsy and is in a wheelchair and gives us a lot of good insight. Then theres Brenda Arnett, our head coach. She coached softball for 28 years at Warner Robins High School and has a great range of experience at the varsity level. She brings the structure and tough love.
QUESTION: Aside from your role in the adapted sports program, what do you do?
ANSWER: I originally was a counselor and soccer coach at Bonaire Middle School. Now Im an itinerant Orthopedic Impaired Teacher throughout Houston County Schools. I travel to different schools and help students with physical disabilities in their classes and help their teachers understand how to best serve them. I really have found my passion in it.
-- Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at email@example.com.