EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

November 12, 2012

Power to play

Soccer on wheels lets kids get into the game

PowerCats player Ben Safford passes the ball up to his brother Sam, who quickly spins around a defender and effortlessly slips the ball past the goalie for the first score of the game. Sam pumps his chest and races back to the centerline cheered by a boisterous crowd of friends and family.

As the University of New Hampshire football hosts William and Mary down the street, the Hamel Center on the Durham, N.H., campus is rocking as well. The Northeast Passage PowerCats are hosting the Sudbury Sharpshooters for a double-header of “Power Soccer” and parents, friends, students and curiosity seekers pack the metal stands at the baseline and cheer loudly as the game is underway.

Sam and Ben Safford, of Pelham, N.H., and students at Methuen’s Fellowship Academy, are two members of the PowerCats, a team in the wheelchair sport of Power Soccer, which is gaining momentum throughout the country. The fast-paced, action-packed, light-contact sport combines the skills of the wheelchair operator with the speed and power of the chair itself.

The chairs are equipped with a metal or plastic foot guard and engineered to race at just over 6 mph. Two teams of four (three players and a goalie) attack, defend, and spin-kick a 13-inch rubber ball in a strategic game similar to soccer. The game is exciting, zippy and fascinating, but more importantly, life changing for everyone involved.

Kait King, the PowerCats head coach rallies the team like any coach would: “You’re doing great,” “nice pass,” “awesome save” and “get back on defense!” are repeated on cue.

Northeast Passage, King’s employer and the organization behind the PowerCats, works with individuals with disabilities to create an environment where they can enjoy the same recreation with the same quality of life and independence as their non-disabled peers. Power Soccer provides just that opportunity, where athletes can take it to the next level, the Paralympics, should their dreams be to do so.

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