SUWANEE — At 11 a.m. Friday, coach Marci Summer knelt down by her team, the North Georgia Screamin’ Eagles, to remind them to pass the ball and stay open. "Teamwork is the game," Summer said.
What sets this team apart from other soccer teams is that they use their wheelchairs to pass the ball.
More than 140 athletes are competing in this weekend’s Power Soccer Eastern Regional Tournament in Suwanee. Teams from Georgia, Florida and North Carolina are competing, and all the players are in motorized wheelchairs.
The look of excitement on the players’ faces when they score a goal or win a game shows how meaningful the game is to them.
"I think power soccer makes it easier for people with disabilities to go out and have fun and play sports they have not played before," said 10-year-old Tyler Farmer, a member of the Screamin’ Eagles from Hoschton.
The Screamin’ Eagles, making their second appearance at the tournament, won both of their games Friday, the first day of the two-day tournament. The Screamin’ Eagles beat the Atlanta Shepherd Strikers 1-0 in their first game. Team captain Justin Pressley, 36, scored the goal with an assist from Farmer.
The Screamin’ Eagles defeated the Orlando Hurricanes 1-0 in the afternoon game. The game-winning goal was scored by forward Russell Gregory.
"I love the sport. It’s so much fun to get out there and play," Farmer said. He said he has been playing power soccer for a year and also plays baseball.
Pressley’s assistant, Jan Hughes, was at the game cheering on Pressley and his teammates. Hughes said the game is very positive and good for Pressley, who enjoys competition. Since starting power soccer, Pressley quit smoking, which Hughes said made her proud.
Gainesville resident and Screamin’ Eagle forward Jason Hare, 22, has been playing with the team about a year. Hare said playing is fun and his favorite part is "getting to meet new faces and new people."
Hare’s mother, Jean Hare of Eastanollee, said "it makes me feel good knowing Jason can go out and participate."
Jason Hare has cerebral palsy but said does not let that stop him from doing what he likes. He has enjoyed horseback riding for 10 years and also likes computers.
Brian Gregory of Cleveland, also rooting on the Screamin’ Eagles from the stands, said the game is vital to keep people with disabilities active. Gregory said his brother, Russell Gregory, 22, of Cornelia, loves the sport.
"It’s gives him competition and it’s a social thing," Brian Gregory said.
Summer said she hopes to finish in the top three this year, but said her team is hoping for first.
"They’re very excited ... the socialization, the camaraderie, it’s really great," Summer said.
The tournament is sponsored by the Fernando Foundation, a nonprofit
organization founded by Jim and Nancy Dornan.
Justin Frick, director of community services for the Fernando Foundation, spearheaded the idea of East Coast power soccer teams with Eric Dornan and David Ruelas. They visited muscular dystrophy camps, wheelchair camps and rehabilitation centers from New York to Miami. On their trips, they would demonstrate the sport and explain how it works. Since then, four Georgia teams have been formed.
"I love playing, but I love working with kids. In this sport they can excel," Frick said, who also is in a wheelchair.
Frick and his partners are currently trying to get power soccer into the Paralympics.
There is no sign up fee to play power soccer and the fundamentals of the sport are taught in a free clinic.
"If you can drive a power chair, you can play," Frick said.
The Screamin’ Eagles are scheduled to play their first Round 2 game at 9 this morning.