Nearly a year ago, the Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation Department, through its signature Hillsborough County Adaptive Sports program, 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).
In mid-June, the department received the national Innovation in Social Equity Award from the National Recreation and Park Association for its Hillsborough County Buccaneers Wheelchair Football Team. The award recognizes an inventive project or program that creates more equitable communities by improving access to local parks and recreation experiences for all residents.
“It shows the dedication to the department and the program itself to making sports available to people that have never played these sports before,” said head coach Wayne Bozeman. “It’s the effort of everybody involved to make sure that these athletes have a chance to be productive in their athletic careers.”
The Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation Department offers several adaptive sports for people with disabilities, such as wheelchair basketball, track and field and archery.
Parks & Recreation held tryouts last summer to create a team that would participate in the USAWFL. There are nine total teams in the league, most of which are located in NFL cities. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers provided team shorts, T-shirts and Buccaneers helmet decals. Former Bucs Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson gave a pep talk to the athletes shortly before they traveled to their first national tournament, in which they finished second overall.
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 Lesley “Les” Miller Jr. All People’s Community Park and Life Center on Sligh Avenue in Tampa. Most of the players compete in other adaptive sports as well, such as wheelchair basketball and archery.
This season’s schedule includes a national tournament in Tampa in August. Per the county’s website, Hillsborough County Adaptive Sports is a signature program of Hillsborough County Parks & Recreation with a mission to promote health, independence and personal growth through sports for people with physical disabilities.