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Burbank Launches Powerchair Soccer Program

Powerchair soccer is a fast-paced sport that has taken the world by storm, and its next stop is here in Burbank.

The gym at the McCambridge Recreation Center was the location of the city’s first recreational powerchair games this past Sunday, as players whizzed by in customized power wheelchairs to battle it out in four-on-four matches.

The program, which is part of the Parks and Recreation Department’s Park and Play initiative, was developed by the department to bring sports to underserved communities in the city. It is headed up by powerchair soccer coach Armando Ornelas, who manages four teams in the Los Angeles area.

“The city of Burbank is honored to partner with coach Armando to offer this fun and exciting opportunity to our community,” said Marisa Garcia, the city’s Parks, Recreation, and Community Services director. “Powerchair soccer is a wonderful Burbank-based drop-in play opportunity that will promote accessible and inclusive sports for athletes living in the greater San Fernando, Santa Clarita and San Gabriel valleys.”

Ornelas was first introduced to the game through his son, Kyle, when he started playing powerchair soccer in the summer of 2008.

“Kyle enjoyed playing and I saw an opportunity to support his aspiration to play a competitive team sport,” Armando Ornelas told the Leader. “I first volunteered with the United States Power Soccer Association as a referee and then became a coach in 2009.”

“My son passed away in July 2018 from complications due to Duchenne muscular dystrophy at the age of 23, and since then I have continued coaching to give others the same enjoyment and opportunities that this sport brought Kyle.”

Duchenne muscular dystrophy is the most severe form of muscular dystrophy, Armando Ornelas said. It limits the strength of the upper body, so other sports like powerchair basketball were out of the picture for his son.

“He wanted to play a sport but there just weren’t any sports for him to play,” the coach said.

Then one day, he read an article about Glendale Community College’s powerchair soccer program. Armando Ornelas quickly reached out to the coach of that program and coordinated a time for Kyle Ornelas to get some playing time.

That’s when the two of them fell in love with the sport.

“I saw that he enjoyed it so much. I saw an opportunity to support his aspirations to play a competitive team sport,” Armando Ornelas said.

The coach said that he has seen powerchair soccer act as a life-changing force for many players. “When you get off the sidelines, and you’re part of a team and you play this sport, it’s life changing for these individuals. It brings them so much joy and helps build their self-confidence,” he said.

Powerchair soccer began in the 1970s when a group of innovative teachers created a game suited to the abilities of students with severe physical disabilities. Today, powerchair soccer is the fastest growing sport for power wheelchair users, which combines the skill of the athlete with the speed and power of the chair itself in an exciting and challenging game.

The sport is played on a regulation-sized basketball court with four players per team, a goalkeeper and three defenders. There are special powerchairs designed specifically for the sport, which are provided as part of the program, though the coach is also able to quickly modify an existing powerchair to be usable during a game.

Since the beginning, powerchair soccer has seen significant popularity, and now has several divisions of league play up to the professional level. The sport has national tournaments that see teams compete for the U.S. title, and competitors battle their way to the World Cup, contested by members of the Fédération Internationale de Powerchair Football Association, the sport’s global governing body.

Burbank’s Park and Play program was designed to bring athletics to communities that haven’t had easy access to team sports.

“We really focused our efforts to ensure that we were meeting the diverse needs of our community but also understanding what demographics were being underserved and really putting a lot of time and attention to bringing sports to those communities,” said Diego Cevallos, deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department.

Through the program, the department hopes to build self-esteem and lasting friendship among players who may not have had access to sports in the past.

“Through programs like this, the Parks and Recreation Department aims to contribute to the mental wellness and self-esteem of individuals with disabilities. This adaptive drop-in sports program will allow participants to feel a sense of camaraderie and fellowship among teammates and find a sense of purpose through sport,” stated department officials.

The Parks and Recreation Department, in collaboration with coach Armando Ornelas, will hold drop-in recreational games of powerchair soccer. The events are open to the public and will take place at the McCambridge Recreation Center Gym at 1515 N. Glenoaks Blvd. every Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

More information on drop-in sports can be found at burbankca.gov/drop-in-sports or by calling the Parks and Recreation Department at (818) 238-5300.

First published in the July 29 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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