All-Access Athletics

Include everyone in your sports camp experience.

“We have a fully accessible campus of 14 acres, but when I arrived, we had one hurdle left: how do you get kids in wheelchairs and walkers to play outside on a sports field? We have children in all kinds of wheelchairs, including some power chairs, which are really heavy. It just can’t be done without a synthetic surface.”

Cotting worked with Boston-based American Sports Builders Association member Stantec Sport, which studied the students’ needs and came up with a game plan for a field that would work.

Stantec tested different types of synthetic turf, and came up with a surface that had a shorter carpet pile (so that it would stand upright) and a higher amount of infill, which enabled athletes to move around with less resistance. All latex and rubber were removed from the carpet and the infill of the material, and instead of latex backing, contractors used thermoplastic elastomer.

The finished field is 100 feet x 125 feet–smaller than many regulation facilities (a standard football field, for example, is 360 feet x 160 feet) but perfect for Cotting’s needs, since the smaller space allows for better and closer supervision of medically fragile children.

Manzo is thrilled with the results, which have included Saturday soccer and summer baseball for all those who wanted to sign up. It was, he noted, a huge step forward for students because “These are things their typically developing peers are doing. Parents, grandparents, everyone comes out and watches the kids play.”

On The Right Track

High-school athletic associations are reporting an increase in requests for accommodations for wheelchair-bound athletes, meaning many of these kids will be looking for training, such as at sports camps, in the off-season.

While those who use wheelchairs are still in the minority, some high-school associations are reporting an uptick in their participation in track-and-field programs. Schools with wheelchair-racing programs are beginning to offer at least one throwing event (in the shot put, javelin, etc., athletes are referred to as ”seated throwers”). Wheelchairs are generally secured to the ground or to an immobile object for the throwing events.

According to Gary Phillips, assistant executive director at the Georgia High School Association, the organization partnered with the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs to help identify and develop activities to serve athletes who have mobility restrictions. At present, says Phillips, wheelchair athletes compete in their own division in three track-and-field events: the 200-meter run, the 800-meter run, and the shot put.

“We thought some kids might be better suited for short races, and some for long races,” says Phillips, “and we wanted the shot as a throwing event. We divide the shot into two divisions based on the students’ handicap.”

Safety Issues

Many times, special needs issues go beyond accessibility. Health and safety concerns should be paramount in a camp director’s mind when equipping athletic facilities.

“Something I believe is critical, yet often missed, is adequate shade for temperature control,” says Matt Hale of HaleCon in Bridgewater, N.J.

“Many individuals with spinal-cord or brain injuries are extremely sensitive to temperature, particularly to heat. Some can have life-threatening heat reactions, which can occur with little warning. Plan as much shade as possible.”

Of course, having water sources at or near the facility is a must, but so are some other considerations.

“If possible, a cool-down area would be helpful, possibly an enclosed space attached to a bathroom facility, air-conditioned, with electric outlets and water. This space could not only provide emergency cooling, but also is a private area for suctioning. Many people with high spinal-cord injuries have difficulty breathing, and often use ventilators to assist ventilation. At times, the airway can get blocked with secretions, thus creating an urgent need for suction. Proper suction would require a source for water and electric.”

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