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Published: Thursday, 4/20/2006

Wheelchair team schools Rockets in football game

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Eric Jackson springs from his wheelchair to tackle UT wide receiver Andrew Hawkins in the end zone at last night's game. Red-shirted Crash players take on the University of Toledo football team on campus in a wheelchair football contest. Eric Jackson springs from his wheelchair to tackle UT wide receiver Andrew Hawkins in the end zone at last night's game. Red-shirted Crash players take on the University of Toledo football team on campus in a wheelchair football contest.
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They chanted, they talked nonstop, and they pushed their wheelchairs to the limit.

But in the end, members of the University of Toledo football team were no match for the Toledo Crash, a wheelchair football team organized by The Ability Center of Greater Toledo.

"They don't take it easy on us," said Andrew Hawkins, 22, a receiver for the Rockets football team. "I'll be back. I'll be back next year."

In their fourth meeting - and third win for the Crash - the two teams took to a small basketball court at the UT Student Recreation Center last night. With fans cheering, both teams careened off each other and crashed into one another for nearly two hours.

The final score: Crash, 56; Rockets, 48.

Red-shirted Crash players take on the University of Toledo football team on campus in a wheelchair football contest. Red-shirted Crash players take on the University of Toledo football team on campus in a wheelchair football contest.
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That didn't come as a surprise to Crash Coach Mario Duncan, who started the team four years ago.

"I love it. It's great," said Mr. Duncan, 34, who has cerebral palsy. "It gives our guys a chance to really play hard."

Made up of team members with and without disabilities, the Crash plays by Universal Wheelchair Football rules.

That means a ball does not have to be caught by someone who does not have use of his or her hands; it only has to hit the intended receiver.

Universal rules help level the playing field, explained Tim Harrington, executive director of the ability center.

"You talk about leveling the playing field. This is leveling the playing field in action," he said from the sidelines.

"The goal of the program is to have folks with disabilities out recreating with their peers."

Wheelchair football is played on a small basketball court. To score a touchdown, a player has to carry the ball anywhere across the court's end lines. Each touchdown is worth 6 points.

The only rule is to avoid getting tackled. But tackling, or more accurately crashing, was prevalent in the game, and neither team was afraid to end up on the floor.

"This is a serious game," said junior Tyree Pollard, 22, a defensive tackle for the Rockets.

Junior Chris Peters, a receiver, agreed. Admitting that sometimes he turns right when he's trying to go left, Mr. Peters, 22, said the game is about support. "They come out and support us. We want to be a part of their lives too," he said.

At halftime, the UT football team was down 50-24, prompting an impromptu pep talk by team members that included an oft-heard quote by UT defensive Coach Tim Rose.

"Be prepared to win on the last play of the game," the players yelled in unison.

About 20 members of the team played in the annual game, including Quarterback Clint Cochran.

The football players didn't intimidate Crash player Sally Ross, 41, the only female on the court. Legally blind, Ms. Ross said she plays wheelchair football because it's fun.

That's what attracted Joe Petersen to the team, his father, Ed, said. The younger Petersen, who had cerebral palsy, died in June at age 24. Last night, his teammates honored him by giving his family a plaque.

"This is something [Joe] loved doing," Mr. Petersen said. "I think it's great. It's something they can all do, and these guys have a good time doing it."

UT graduate students Josh Keeler and Aaron Grabovich were distracted from their evening workout in the Rec Center's weight room by the nonstop bantering and cheers coming from the court.

"I think it's great to see the football players come out and show support for the community," said Mr. Grabovich, 22. "It shows they care about the city of Toledo."

But were the two men hoping for a UT repeat victory?

"I'm rooting for the red [Crash] team," said Mr. Keeler, 24. "I root for the football team in the fall."

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-724-6076.



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