By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Connecticut’s first-ever wheelchair lacrosse team has formed right in Bristol’s backyard.
Chapter 126 Sports & Fitness is now offering a wheelchair lacrosse program, the first of its kind in the state.
Reported as one of the fastest growing sports nationwide, wheelchair lacrosse is a combination of soccer, basketball, football and hockey. The program, which is $60 per person, is open to adults aged 18 years or older with and without disabilities. No experience is necessary, and all equipment and sports chairs will be provided.
The program runs now to Aug. 16 on Sundays from 12 to 2 p.m.
In addition, a scholarship from the New England Paralyzed Veterans of America has made it possible to offer the program free to veterans.
The program currently kicked off last month during a two-day clinic, which was put on by the founders of wheelchair lacrosse. Hosted by Ryan Baker, the co-founder of Wheelchair Lacrosse USA, the clinic involved high-quality instruction at Chapter 126. In addition, Wheelchair Lacrosse USA provided all appropriate gear and equipment involved in the sport.
Formed in 2009, Wheelchair Lacrosse USA hopes to build up to 20 teams by 2017. To date, wheelchair lacrosse programs have been implemented in San Diego, Denver, Atlanta, New York City, Richmond, Va., Tampa, Baltimore, and Las Vegas, according to the organization’s website.
Paul Weiland, Adapted Sports Program Coordinator at Chapter 126, said the team is not only a state team, but also a regional one.
“We have people coming in from as far away as Rhode Island to participate,” said Weiland, adding that a coach who has experience with lacrosse also will work with the new team. “We are definitely a regional team.”
The idea to start a wheelchair lacrosse program stemmed from a conversation Weiland had one day with a group of basketball enthusiasts he knew were looking for a sport to play in the off-season. After someone mentioned lacrosse, Weiland came across Wheelchair Lacrosse USA, and the rest is history.
Looking ahead, Weiland said he hopes the new team will become a sustainable endeavor that will compete annually within the Wheelchair Lacrosse USA program while spreading awareness about the sport.
Located at 47 Upson St., Chapter 126 Sports & Fitness is a state-of-the-art facility that aims to improve the health and wellness of youth, adults, veterans and seniors with physical disabilities, as well as their caregivers and families, according to the center’s website.
The first facility of its kind in New England, Chapter 126 offers specialized fitness and exercise equipment, sports programs, group exercise classes and a gym for adaptive sports. Certified trainers and strength and conditioning experts are available to help members in meeting their health and fitness goals. The facility was named after U.S. Code, Title 42, Chapter 126, which gives equal opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
Besides wheelchair lacrosse, Chapter 126 recently added adaptive tennis to its list of program offerings. The fitness center recently received a grant from the United States Tennis Association to help offset the costs of the program, which is a game of one-up one-down for people with and without disabilities. One-up One-down tennis pairs a wheelchair player and an able-bodied player competing against a team also consisting of a wheelchair player and an able-bodied player.
The program, which is $75 for members and $100 for non-members will take place on Tuesdays from June 23 to Aug. 18. The junior program will take place from 6 to 7 p.m. and the adult program from 7 to 8 p.m. Registration is required.
All equipment will be provided at Chapter 126, and the program is free for veterans.
“This is for any ability level,” said Weiland, adding that the program is open to participants with both cognitive and physical disabilities. “This program is more designed towards everyone playing. It improves that idea of inclusion for all.”
For more information or to register for adaptive tennis, call (860) 769-3824 or send an e-mail to email@example.com. To register for the wheelchair lacrosse program, contact Paul Weiland at (860) 769-7049 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Registration also is available online at www. chapter126.com/sports.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO