Powerchair Football (or Soccer in North America) was invented in 1982 by a group of Vancouver athletes wanting to play a competitive team sport. Since then, the popularity of powerchair football (PCF) has mushroomed worldwide. Canada, England, France, Denmark, Japan and the United States currently field teams and host international tournaments. PCF officials are seeking to have this sport included in future Paralympics.
PCF teams – of 4 players each – play on a basketball-sized court, using an oversized soccer ball. The wheelchairs are fitted with a steel or plastic foot-guard that protects the players’ feet & shins, and is used to hit and propel the ball. The sport is open to anyone with physical disabilities who can operate a power wheelchair competently. Different tournaments have set eight & ten years as the minimum age.
For the first time in history, PCF permits these individuals to play a fun, safe and fast-paced competitive team sport. PCF is also a very exciting spectator sport, as experienced players can display some incredible ball-handling and chair-maneuvering skills. The close-quarters battles for ball possession can be ferocious and riveting to watch.
In 2004, Penticton was the first place in B.C. to host a PCF tournament. Called B.C. Storm, the tournament is the only one that invites individual players and teams with less than four players. By mixing up the teams, B.C. Storm encourages new players and teams to experience competitive-level play. Over the past four years, participation has grown from 16 to 36 players.
In 2007, after only four years of existence, our Okanagan Thunderchairs (OTC) went undefeated in the round-robin phase of the international Mountain Madness Tournament in Burnaby. Our excellent effort surprised teams from Vancouver, North Shore, Surrey, Quebec & the State of Washington. This amazing feat stemmed from our players’ skill & commitment, our coaches’ enthusiasm & dedication and the financial & organizational support of People In Motion.
Currently, OTC players and coaches hail from Penticton, Kelowna and Vernon. The team welcomes new players from Kamloops, Revelstoke, and anywhere else in the Okanagan Valley between Osoyoos in the South and Prince George in the north. Six of our coaches & parents are trained referees under the new international rules and have officiated at tournaments.
Players, parents & coaches all relish the joyful camaraderie of the OTC team. Players also have opportunities to make new friends, to socialize & verbalize more, to travel to tournaments in far-away lands, to contribute to a dynamic community endeavour, to feel the heady thrill of team strategy in physical competition and to witness inspiring behaviour & character from other physically-challenged people.
Finally, parents see a team sport that their child can participate in, enjoy & even excel at, reaping the potential player benefits listed above. Positive family spin-offs can be the players’ improved mood, social skills & goal-setting and their increased confidence, alertness & feelings of personal control.
One parent emphasized how sharing problems & information with other families of children or adults with disabilities helped them to feel less ‘alone’ and to discover new ways of overcoming common challenges.
PCF is a win-win proposition that has elevated participating families’ quality of life.