Archive for Sunday, March 27, 2005

Wheelchair team sports provide athletic outlet

March 27, 2005


A wheelchair becomes a piece of sports equipment for Ray Petty when he plays basketball.

"I didn't start playing until I was 40," said Petty, 54, who uses a wheelchair because of having polio as a child. "I missed the time when I was younger and stronger and maybe a little more fit. But it's good fitness and it's fun."

Petty, 54, has been playing with the Kansas Wheelhawks for about 14 years. The Wheelhawks are part of the National Wheelchair Basketball Assn. About 50 teams nationwide belong to the association.

The Wheelhawks are part of the Midwest Conference and play teams in Lincoln, Neb., St. Louis, Kansas City and Waterloo, Iowa.

Petty said the team included players from Lawrence, Topeka, Paola, Manhattan and Sabetha. All players have some disability that require them to use or have the assistance of a wheelchair.

Lawrence annually hosts a wheelchair basketball tournament at Holcom Park Recreation Center, 2700 W. 27th St., and the team practices at the VA Medical Center in Topeka.

Lawrence resident Jarvis Stirn also plays on the Wheelhawks.

"It's a good way to be social as well as competitive," Stirn said. "Everyone is really friendly on and off the court."

Stirn, 30, began playing on the team eight years ago. He had to use a wheelchair after a car accident 10 years ago.

Stirn said he and others, including Petty, were looking to start more teams and leagues for people in wheelchairs.

The two said an organization, Kansas Accessible Sports, has started as a way for handicapped people to find out about sports in their area.

"I think it's really hard for a lot of people in wheelchairs," Stirn said. "They don't always hear a lot about the possibilities out there for them. There's not really a common resource."

Stirn said he has been working on holding tennis matches for people in wheelchairs. He and Petty also talked about starting a wheelchair softball team.

"There's a wheelchair-accessible softball diamond in the works for Topeka right now, and that's a big deal," Stirn said.

Fund raising is under way for the wheelchair-accessible ball diamond, said Rogers Brazier, Topeka Parks and Recreation director. He said he didn't know how much money has been contributed to the project so far.

"As soon as we have sufficient funds for the project, we'll look to move ahead with it," he said.

Brazier said the ball diamond project could cost about $300,000. That would mean completely stripping down a ball field and redoing it, he said.

"This is a fun project, and it would be dedicated to people with disabilities," he said.

Petty said he hoped a softball team could be formed.

"What would be great in the future is to have a team in Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka," he said. "You could have a Sunday picnic and have an afternoon of baseball."

Petty also said they could use more people on the Wheelhawks. He can be contacted at

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