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Wheelchair athletes will compete for national title

POSTED: April 6, 2009 11:46 p.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Tyler Farmer of the North Georgia Screamin' Eagles works the ball upcourt during a game earlier this year. The team has been invited to national competition in Indianapolis.

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The North Georgia Screamin’ Eagles power soccer team is rallying the community for support as the wheelchair athletes prepare for their second national championship try in two years.

The Flowery Branch-based Screamin’ Eagles is one of only about 50 power soccer teams in the country.

Power soccer is the first competitive team sport designed specifically for power wheelchair users. Instead of playing on a grassy field, power soccer players compete on a basketball gym floor and use their wheelchairs and teamwork to kick a 13-inch soccer ball down the court to score a goal.

When the team placed third in the Southeast region in March, it was one of 10 teams across the country to receive an invitation to compete in June at the national championship in Indianapolis. The Screamin’ Eagles hope to raise about $9,000 to cover travel expenses for the trip.

Last year, the eight-member team of 11- to 37-year-olds placed sixth in the country at the national championship competition in Suwanee. But this year, they’re going for the gold.

Brian Farmer, who co-coaches the Screamin’ Eagles with Marci Summer, said the team has come a long way since it began competing in 2006.

"When we first started off, we were horrible," Farmer said. "We lost our first few games 11 to nothing or 10-0. But in a short time, we’ve gone to being one of the best, not in just the region but in the country."

Farmer, whose son Tyler, 11, competes on the team, said power soccer gives Tyler a chance to get his competitive juices flowing.

"He’s the biggest sports fan there is," Farmer said. "He wanted to feel that feeling of winning and losing."

Farmer said Tyler was anxious for a setting in which he could be a real athlete.

"Just for them to have an outlet for a real competition, not a feel-good competition, it really feeds that desire for competition and being part of a team and that payoff you get through hard work and perseverance," he said.

Tyler, a sixth-grader at Osborne Middle School in Gwinnett County, said the team will add a Sunday practice to their weekly Wednesday sessions to prepare for the championship.

"What I look forward to most when I go to this kind of thing is meeting new people and having fun and making new friends, plus trying to win the whole thing, too," Tyler said.

Justin Pressley, 37, is the Screamin’ Eagles team captain. The former football player said after he was injured in a motorcycle accident at age 16, he never thought he’d be competing in a national championship of any kind.

Pressley said power soccer has been a positive force for getting disabled people out of the house and back into action. He said he hopes to start a power soccer team in Athens to get more people involved in the sport.

"We need more positive role models for younger people in wheelchairs," he said. "I try to be a role model for younger folks with disabilities. There’s more to life than just sitting at home watching TV. We can live life and live the American dream, too."

Russell Gregory, 25, has been on the team since 2006. He said he’s glad to see the team’s practice and film reviewing paying off, but the Screamin’ Eagles need financial support from the public to bring home the national title.

"It just goes to show people with quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy — we’re athletes, too," Gregory said. "... We’re trying to get it out to the public that this is your local team, and we need your support. This isn’t going to happen every year."



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