Children and Youth

COMMENTARY: Free Wheelers need community support

Wheelchair athletes need help from the community to keep playing their sport, as 20-year legacy hangs in the balance

The Hollister Free Wheelers have been around and playing power (wheelchair) soccer in Hollister for just over 18 years. In all this time, they have had many positive (and some negative) experiences, seen many ups and downs, enjoyed many successes and endured many challenges.

However, they are currently experiencing one of the most challenging chapters yet. Fundraising efforts have been less and less effective for the past few years. Last year, their top player also stepped away from the team and the sport itself to welcome the birth of his first child. They had to register the team as "non-competitive" this year with the USPSA (the national governing association). Two of the other players who had been traveling from out of town to play on the Hollister team, chose to transfer to teams as close (or closer) to their homes mainly because those teams would more likely be competing in games and tournaments this year.

Due to all the recent changes, it would be logical to stop conducting this program, but they're trying to keep something going for those remaining few who are available and interested in playing this sport in this area. This past fall, the registration was down to four returning players and, as it turned out, one 6-year-old young man who was able to play the sport for the first time thanks to this team.

The couple running this have been conducting this program in cooperation with the City of Hollister Recreation program since the beginning. A long-standing agreement between the city and Hollister School District has led to them holding weekly practices and hosting home games at the gym they've come to consider their home turf, at one of the local middle schools.

Steady increases in registration fees coupled with the recent low numbers of participants, however, means the fees being charged no longer come close to covering the cost of using the space. The possibility of not being able to use this space anymore is becoming increasingly real.

Meanwhile, the coach for nearly 20 years and his wife (who has been managing all the team activities for the same amount of time) are dealing with increasingly difficult scheduling conflicts. They need help and are hoping to find some go-getters in the community to step up and step in to bring this program forward.

For most people, whether this program survives or not will not effect their lives in any way. Despite immense efforts to get the word out every year, some people in the area may not ever know this team even existed. But for those remaining players, this matters … and the loss of this recreational option will drop their quality of life immensely.

It may be inevitable that this is how the story ends. However, those still involved are not willing to give up without knowing they've tried everything they can to keep this option available to those who benefit from this the most, the wheelchair athletes who play this game.

If anyone is interested in knowing more about what is needed and/or how they may be able to help, they may contact Susan Jones (team manager) at: [email protected] or by visiting the Hollister Free Wheelers' Facebook page.

Susan Jones