The Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation Department, through its signature Hillsborough County Adaptive Sports program, has introduced a new sport—wheelchair football. The Hillsborough County Buccaneers Wheelchair Football Team was selected as an expansion to the USA Wheelchair Football League (USAWFL). There are nine total teams in the league, most of which are located in NFL cities.
On September 8, the team was introduced and given equipment and a pep talk from Bucs Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson. They received official Tampa Bay Buccaneers helmets as well as jerseys provided by Move United. The Bucs then traveled to Phoenix, Arizona on the weekend of September 11-12 to play five games against other teams in NFL markets. They had a successful weekend, winning four out of five games. They will play their next tournament on the weekend of Halloween in Kansas City.
Ryan Lindstrom, who plays center for the team, competes in several other adaptive sports, including wheelchair rugby, softball and, most notably, for the Tampa Bay Strong Dogs basketball team, was thrilled at the opportunity to try his hand at a new sport. The Riverview resident said that he and his teammates who play for the Strong Dogs had been interested in playing adaptive football for a long time. He stays very active, playing all of these sports at the same time during the season. He is most excited about learning a new sport and being involved in the inaugural season in Tampa.
“It’s a lot of fun to get out there and play a sport that you watch on TV,” said Lindstrom. “When you get out there and are playing, it feels like you’re playing football and not playing an adaptive sport. It almost feels as close to football as it can possibly be.”
Receiver Adryan Powell said that he had never played football before, coming from the Cayman Islands, where football isn’t the primary sport. The Brandon resident was a soccer goalkeeper before his injury. He also competes for the Tampa Bay Strong Dogs, after playing adaptive basketball in college at the University of Texas Arlington. After the football season, Powell plans on playing in an overseas wheelchair basketball league. He enjoys the camaraderie of playing football with his teammates.
“It can get really competitive out there,” said Powell. “It’s a really fun sport, and I think once more people get into it and see it, they’ll love it.”
Lindstrom said that the seven-on-seven, one-hand touch sport is very physical with a lot of contact. It’s played on a hard-surface court that is 60 yards long and 22 yards wide. The team consists of 14 total players. They practice two to three days a week at All People’s Community Park and Life Center on Sligh Ave.
Per the Hillsborough County website, this is the first wheelchair football team for Hillsborough County’s Adaptive Sports program, which promotes health, independence and personal growth through sports for people with physical disabilities. The USAWFL is a program of Move United, a nonprofit organization devoted to the promotion of parasports among youths and adults with physical disabilities. League expansion was made possible through the NFL Salute to Service Award and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
“The team that we have is pretty awesome, and I’m excited to see what we can do at the next tournament,” said Lindstrom.