Power soccer provides sports outlet to disabled

Courier-Post Staff

Bruce Jackson's cerebral palsy is so advanced that his body -- contorted by the disease -- is confined to a power wheelchair he controls with a joystick.
He can no longer speak, so to talk with him, you have to pull a laminated piece of paper out of a zippered pouch attached to his wheelchair. The alphabet, numbers 1 through 9, and the words "yes" and "no" appear on the paper.
Where do you live, Bruce?
With his right index finger, Jackson points to eight letters and spells out V-O-O-R-H-E-E-S. He then waits for you to say the word out loud to make sure you understand.
Such communication niceties are left on the sideline, though, the minute he motors onto the indoor basketball court at the Old Pine Community Center in Philadelphia to play power soccer Saturday afternoons.
Jackson, 41, morphs into a trash-talking fiend.
He jets over to the opposing team's players and starts wagging his head back and forth with attitude.
Jackson doesn't need words to get the point across. He believes in himself and his team, and he's having a great time.
Scott Simpkins couldn't help but laugh at the display on a recent Saturday.
To him, it's proof that team sports can open up new worlds for people forced to use a power wheelchair because of a degenerative disease or spinal cord injury.
"When an able-bodied person sees a person in a wheelchair, their first reaction is pity," said Simpkins, 33, of Williamstown. "We don't need pity, we need opportunity."
Simpkins is in the process of organizing the Philadelphia area's first power soccer team.
Practices started the first Saturday of October and, thus far, the team has five regulars. Because each side requires four players, Simpkins and company haven't been able to scrimmage.
Nonetheless, he envisions creating a league with help from Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in Philadelphia, which has pledged to fund the program.
There would be a team in South Jersey, one sponsored by the United Cerebral Palsy Philadelphia chapter and another at Inglis House, a Philadelphia home for people with physical disabilities.
"It means so much to be a participant and not just a spectator," Simpkins said. He first approached Magee about power soccer in late 2001 after reading about the sport online.