Local organizations gathered at Syracuse University’s Flanagan Gymnasium on Saturday to bring community awareness about sports opportunities for disabled youth to the Hill. Handcycling, sled-hockey and basketball stations were scattered throughout the gym and were available for all who attended the event. Disabled and abled visitors alike, were able to participate in these sporting activities by using adaptive equipment such as the sled used for sled hockey. Players sit on sleds anchored by the blades of ice hockey skates on the bottom, using hockey sticks with metal picks on each end to move over the ice.
While many participated in the sports stations throughout the day, the main highlight was the head-to-head wheelchair basketball game between the Sitrin Stars of Utica and the Move Along Flyers of Syracuse.
Greg Callen, the founder of Move Along, Inc., said he established this organization after falling from a balcony that left him paralyzed from the waist down. After going through a period of depression, he said he realized that he wanted to help not only himself, but others who have disabilities to become involved and have greater opportunities.
“I needed to find a platform to reintegrate myself,” Callen said.
Though newly established as of February 2009, Callen’s organization has been featured numerous times in USA Hockey Magazine and is already beginning to expand. He said his goal is to increase awareness that sports are for everyone, regardless of whether or not you have a disability.
“They just have a flaw with their body that can be overcome with their attitude,” Callen said. “We’re going to break down walls of ignorance and build knowledge.”
Players from both the Move Along Flyers and Sitrin Stars displayed similar goals of increasing community awareness about the importance of disabled youth having equal opportunities to participate in sports. Erik Ryan, 23, has been playing with the Move Along Flyers for nine years and said he hopes more platforms will support his team in the future.
“I’m never satisfied with it [playing],” Ryan said. “We don’t have our own version of ESPN, so I won’t be satisfied until that happens.”
Ryan added that he hopes that in the future, people do not automatically associate a wheelchair basketball game with the Special Olympics. Instead, he said he hopes people can picture them being just as competitive as other sports teams.
Kevin Burnside, 21, of the Utica Sitrin has been with the team since 2004 and said that the chemistry of his team is what keeps him coming back each year. His mother, Sherri Harris-Game, has cheered him on at each and every one of his games and events. She said she hopes that one day their team can be part of a league and travel across the country.
“I am called the team spectator,” Harris-Game said. “I am like a psychotic fan.”
Karen Kaye, the head of event planning for Move Along, Inc., said that the organization’s short-term goal is to find a permanent facility for their athletes. She explained that the teams have had to move facilities six times since the founding of the organization. And, she hopes to eventually expand the program further, by incorporating other sports such as water-skiing and cycling through fundraising, grants and donations.
Liat Ben-Moshe, the coordinator for SU’s Disability Cultural Center Initiative, said she hopes disability will go from something people see as having to accommodate to something that is celebrated. She said that the initiative started because of the University’s emphasis on diversity. Ben-Moshe explained that when people talk about diversity, however, they seem to focus only on race and gender.
“Disability is a part of a diverse campus,” she said.
Though disability invokes limitations, Kaye said that the focus of this event was to showcase that the disabled also have opportunities. For example, she said having a disability does not mean that you can’t play sports.
“You just have to find a different way to do it,” she said.