Wheelchair lacrosse team forming

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What began as a couple wheelchair athletes deciding that lacrosse should be open to them has grown into a group of players who are working to establish the roster for the Colorado Mammoth Wheelchair Lacrosse team.

“I got interested in the sport when I went to an Mammoth game,” said Daniel Hersh, one of the original team members. “I liked the game. It moved fast and there was a lot of action. I decided to see if it was possible for wheelchair athletes to play the game. I bought a lacrosse stick and just started tossing the ball around.”

He said he went on the Internet and found the national wheelchair lacrosse association and learned it was a fledgling, growing sport for wheelchair athletes.

“Some other guys got interested and we began playing some three-on-three on an indoor roller hockey rink,” he said. “We did a camp in Colorado Springs on Labor Day and had 15 or 16 guys join us. It is a great sport and I hope we get a lot of guys involved.”

He said the guys have been getting together to practice their skills and scrimmage for more than a year. But now the effort is to build a team that will compete in games and tournaments, thanks to the support of Colorado Adaptive Sports Foundation and the Colorado Mammoth.

Corey Fairbanks, of the sports foundation, has joined the organizational effort.

The Littleton man said the effort to create a team got a boost when the Colorado Mammoth Indoor Lacrosse Team agreed to support the team.

“This initial team will be for adults,” he said. “But like the other wheelchair sports, our goal is to eventually create a youth team as well.”

Hersh said lacrosse has special skills and it takes time to be able to play catch because each player has to learn how to use throw the ball accurately from the net pocket on the lacrosse stick and to use the net pocket to catch the ball.

He said the team is now playing indoors but the action could move outside when the weather gets warmer, as games can be played on any smooth roller hockey rink.

“We have contacted the national organization and they have invited us to come to Ocean City, N.J., in August,” he said. “That is when they hold a huge lacrosse tournament and the goal is for us to hold our first wheelchair lacrosse tournament.”

The sport is in its infancy. There are four established teams in the United States, and the Canadian wheelchair program is getting started.

A.J. Nagle is one of the team’s players.

“I wanted to get involved in a team sport and lacrosse appealed to me,” the Lakewood resident said. “The sport is a little more difficult for me because I am a quadriplegic and don’t have a lot of hand strength. But I don’t let that stop me. It is a great game and I really enjoy it.”

Teammate John Vcelka agreed.

“I had been messing around with lacrosse sticks and then Daniel got me involved in the team,” the Highlands Ranch resident said. “The skills have to be learned and we are fortunate to have coaches working with us. They have helped us a ton.”

He said he likes the fast-moving pace of the game and the physical contact.

“We wear pads because you get hit with a stick a lot,” he said. “It is physical and you can use the chair to block an opponent as long as you don’t hit him behind the axel.”

Lacrosse is an original American sport that was played by American Indian tribes. Tribes in the Iroquois Nation used the game as training for the warriors with as many as 100 players per team involved in a game on a field more than a mile long. The game sometimes lasted for two or three days.

The game has evolved. It is played at the adult, college, high school and youth level in Colorado.

The game was adapted for play on the roller hockey rink. There are eight players per team, a goalie, two defenders, two midfielders and two attackmen.

Midfielders can move up and down the length of the field but neither the defenders or the attackers can cross the midfield line.

Wheelchair teams play four 15-minute quarters. Goals count 1 point each and are scored by getting the ball past the goalie and into the net.

Substitutions are made on the fly like in hockey and, also as in hockey, penalties are assessed and the offender has to sit out, which leaves his team shorthanded.

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