At Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute in Golden Valley, disabilities do not stop its clients from being active and having fun.
This year, the organization introduced wheelchair lacrosse, the newest of its sports programs.
“It’s passion and joy (to coach this sport),” said Barry Weintraub, a five-year activity-based exercise specialist with the Able Program at Courage Kenny. “It has always been something I’ve enjoyed. Seeing other people get excited about a sport that they haven’t had the chance to play and learn and succeed in is just great.”
The program’s 10 players meet weekly to practice lacrosse basics and work on stick handling while moving around in their wheelchairs.
Weintraub’s team plays with men’s league gear and by men’s league rules, which allows physical contact.
“It really allows us to be a lot less adaptive,” he said.
Players can bang chairs together, hit each other with sticks and play aggressively, just like players in an able-bodied league.
There are a few adaptations to the game, including the field and number of players during a game. Wheelchair lacrosse must be played on a roller hockey rink, either in a gymnasium or outdoor roller rink. The rink is smaller than a traditional lacrosse field, which is the same size as a football field, so the team must play with two fewer players.
Instead of seven players and a goalie, the team has five players and a goalie.
Weintraub said there are always challenges to coaching any sport.
“I think the biggest challenge is working on the fundamentals with people that really want to just jump straight to hitting and really increase the aggressiveness of the game,” he said.
Weintraub, who has played lacrosse for 14 years and coached for 10 years, wants to spread awareness of the game to anyone and everyone.
“The excitement around the general game has picked up so much that the ability to share it with everybody is really the key for me,” he said. “There was a saying when I grew up that was, ‘grow the game.’ When I heard that growing up, that was a big deal for me. So, when I got into coaching, it was always about spreading the word, growing the game, not letting anybody stop that and not preventing anybody from playing the game.”
Weintraub said lacrosse is unique because it is one of only a few games in wheelchair sports that allows anyone to play. Those who live with a traumatic brain injury, are a paraplegic, have multiple sclerosis or cerebral palsy have the ability to play lacrosse thanks to some advancements in technology.
“They have sticks attached to wheelchairs with pneumatic gauges that fire a lacrosse ball off,” Weintraub said. “There’s so much interest in technology going into the sport right now at all different levels for all of those different people to play. It’s exciting for me as a coach and a former player.”
Courage Kenny’s wheelchair lacrosse program was Weintraub’s idea.
“I came across some other universities that were doing this and partnering with other wheelchair lacrosse communities,” he said. “We were lucky enough, last year, to have a clinic put on by the Wisconsin Paralyzed Veterans of America. They donated a bunch of equipment. That’s what really kicked our program off the ground and got us going.”
Approximately 30 people attended the two-day clinic.
“We had a blast,” the coach said.
For now, the program is gaining traction in hopes of creating a youth following and, eventually, participating in games against other leagues within the Wheelchair Lacrosse USA organization.
Players must be 14 years of age or older to join.
For more information, search for “wheelchair lacrosse” at allinahealth.org.
Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]