LANCASTER, NY (WKBW) – History is being made on the hot summer pavement in Buffalo.
“Finding sport, finding meaning, that’s what it’s about,” said US veteran Carrie Frank.
Soccer players show their mental and physical strength, which knows no bounds.
“It needs to spread, people need to know it’s out there,” said US veteran Matt Daniels.
Daniels is part of Buffalo’s premier wheelchair football league sponsored by the NFL Foundation and the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The team meets once a week for training at Como Lake Park in Lancaster.
“I’m Buffalo’s first ever football player — one of them,” Daniels said. “This is great. I’m glad I was part of the first season.”
The team consists of athletes living with disabilities.
“It’s reassuring and they don’t ask me why or how. It’s just, here you are, let’s play this game, let’s get this going,” said David Cross.
Each player has a different story. Many, like Cross, have served our country. Cross was injured in the military. He was hit by an explosive device and lost his leg in the process.
“I can only play sports,” he said. “I tried golf, it was too boring. Getting out there and playing competitively is everything for me.”
For US veteran Carrie Frank, the sport has served its purpose.
“If you can do stand-up for so long and then you can’t anymore, you have to forgive the sport and then move on,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to do this as adults without the Greater Adaptive Buffalo Sports Program.”
The team was put together last season by Norm Page, president of the Greater Buffalo Adaptive Sports Program.
“These athletes are incredible,” he said. “I have more of it than they do, and that’s the truth. It’s rewarding. We are all volunteers, every penny we raise for our programs goes directly to our athletes.”
Norm’s son Adam Page is a three-time Paralympian and gold medalist.
“We have people here who have suffered limbs, injuries and birth defects. Being able to see the joy on their face because they thought they never would – especially with football. Now they can play football. The biggest thing in western New York, the Buffalo Bills football, and now they can play football like everyone else.”
This team is not lacking in physicality as the rules are the same as in the NFL.
“Full blocking, hitting, everything,” Daniels said. “Let the interference pass. You have to touch your opponent but hit, everyone loves to hit,” he said, laughing.
The team will compete against 11 other teams across the country this season in two separate tournaments in Chicago and Salt Lake City. While these players hope to go home with a trophy, the opportunity to play the sport is a priceless gift that players like Carrie Frank say saved their lives.
“The ability to have friends, to be part of something, to socialize,” she said. “You don’t have to sit there and be in a corner anymore. You can shine. You can be tough – it’s okay. You can play sports.”
The team, coached by former Buffalo Bills head coach Bud Carpenter and former East Aurora football coach Tim Wade, hopes to add a youth league to that program in the coming years.
Recently, West Herr Automotive Group’s Scott Bieler donated 10 new adaptive wheelchairs to the team, costing approximately $4,300 each.