Soccer on wheels at GCC

Athletes booted balls past the goalie and hounded one another into the corners of Verdugo Gym in a series of fierce matches at Glendale Community College this weekend, but this was no ordinary sports event.

The college hosted its first-ever Glendale Invitational Power Soccer Tournament, with wheelchair-bound players from Santa Barbara, Hollister and Tempe, Ariz., in town to do battle.

Most of the players are developmentally disabled. Others lost their mobility in auto accidents. But that doesn't stop them from mixing it up in a sport sanctioned by the United States Power Soccer Assn.

Players spun tight 180- and 360-degree turns to build momentum to slam the ball downfield, using metal cages that protect their feet to strike the ball. Goalies worked their wheelchairs furiously into reverse and forward motion as they anticipated shots on goal.

The Glendale Rough Riders, one of two local teams, won the first match in its three-year history Saturday, topping a Santa Barbara team 6-1 to kick off the tournament.

"It's all about teamwork," said Joey Wells of Shadow Hills, a member of the Rough Riders who suffers from a form of muscular dystrophy. "It feels good to see everything we've worked on come together."

Wells is one of the founders of the Glendale power soccer movement, which now has enough players to fill the rosters of two teams in the four-on-four sport. The Glendale teams are the only ones in the Los Angeles area. Players from as far as Yorba Linda and Simi Valley come to Glendale Community College each Sunday to practice.

Cindy Wells, Joey's mother, coached the Rough Riders on Saturday as they topped the less-experienced Glendale Wild Wheelers. She said the game expands the horizons of people who face extraordinary day-to-day challenges.

"You think you have your chair, and that's it," she said. "But no matter what your disability is, you can be an athlete."

The sounds were the same as a fan might hear at any youth athletic event. Teams chanted in unison as they broke from huddles, coaches demanded more vigilant defense and referees blew whistles to stop the action when they saw infractions. The only difference was the clash of metal on metal as players battled for control of the oversized, leather-bound ball.

Laura Matsumoto, a professor of assisted computer technology and adaptive physical education at Glendale Community College, coordinates the program. She said the college provides the facility, but the families need to raise the funds to host tournaments and travel for games.

She is looking for fundraising support. For more information, contact Matsumoto at (818) 240-1000, Ext. 3192.

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