Wheelchair softballers compete in Columbus

Columbus is host to the 29th annual National Wheelchair Softball Tournament taking place at Rhodes Park through Saturday.

Umpire Joe Miller called the balls and strikes from behind home plate as the Indians of Cleveland played the Yankees of New York…just two of the teams from around the country battling to become the national wheelchair softball champion. John Wall is with the Columbus Pioneers and is co-director of the tournament…

A lot of these fellas have been athletes prior and ladies too, this is co-ed have been athletes prior to their injury or their disability. That was a lost portion of their lives, when they got disabled, but when they became disabled and discovered wheelchair sports they found a whole new outlet. Good self esteem, good comradely, good tough competition and just a heck of a lot of good people, Wall said.

One of those good people is Pioneers shortstop Joseph Wonn, who’s been part of the team since 1993.

First-year coach Rachel Botkin says working with the Pioneers is not much different than what she found as a coach of able-bodied teams.

Umpire Al Shank has been calling wheelchair softball games for the past six years and he continues to be impressed by the high levels of competition and sportsmanship.

The ten-person teams play on an asphalt surface with 16-inch balls and 50-foot base paths. It’s 150 feet down the first and third base lines and about 200 feet to center. The wheelchairs are specifically designed for sports. Lighter and more maneuverable than normal chairs, they cost upwards of two-thousand dollars each.

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