LITTLETON - Sundays are a day of rest and relaxation for most, but don't tell that to the members of the Adaptive Sports Partners of the North Country's power wheelchair soccer team.
On Sunday afternoons, the Daisy Bronson Junior High School Gymnasium in Littleton transforms from a silent, vacant space to a room packed with the low hums of electric scooters and lots of laughter.
The organization features many different athletic and recreational activities for people with mental and physical disabilities, no matter how severe. "Our mission is to ensure the enrichment of the quality of life for people with disabilities", said Sandy Olney, ASPNC's Executive Director. "We do this through year-round opportunities for sport recreation and wellness."
The sport itself is an application of traditional soccer: there's a ball, a goal, and players on the 'field'. The only difference, however, is that the players are seated in power wheelchairs fitted with a custom 'bumper' that lets the player maneuver with the oversized ball. The action is suprisingly physical, and at some points, bears a closer resemblance to bumper cars than soccer.
While players on the team span all ages and disabilities, there are volunteers who simply lend their time to help out and make the athletes better. "I'm not going to compete," volunteer Sydney Lambert told us. "I just kind of take it in stride. That's probably some of the most fun is that I can just kind of make a joke about it."
The mission of the league is to give players a team environment, which is something many of them have never had before, including Head Coach Zak Schmoll. "You know, growing up my sister was always the athlete. My freshman year of college at the University of Vermont, I started playing [power soccer]," he said. "It's fun to be the athlete for once."
Schmoll plays professionally in the United States Power Soccer Association on the Vermont Chargers, based out of Burlington. When he's not playing games around New England and Quebec, he spends his time coaching, and love seeing his players get better. "It's fun to see them grow and see them learn. It takes time, but you see progress over time.", said Schmoll.
The league allows players involved to experience the challenges of practice, the thrills of victory (and the unavoidable agony of defeat) as a community.
However, the best part according to Lambert, has nothing to do with competiton at all. "It's really nice to be able to go out there, help them out, and give that attention and that opportunity to feel like part of the team."