Boccia Enjoys Dramatic Growth at 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games
Post Date:January 19, 2017
Paralyzed Army veteran Scott Richards had never heard of the adaptive sport of Boccia until last year.
But the boccia event at the 35th National Veterans Wheelchair Games(#NVWG) was evidence that he – as well as nearly 100 other Veterans – had latched on to the precision ball sport. Offered as an exhibition at the 33rd Games in Tampa, Boccia is now in its second year of competition at the Games.
“I got involved a year ago when someone donated some boccia balls, and we started playing,” said Richards, who began playing with Paralyzed Veterans of America National Vice President Charles Brown.
Boccia is a precision ball sport similar to the Italian game of bocce. Boccia – practiced in more than 50 countries most frequently by individuals with neurological conditions involving a wheelchair – consists of four rounds of individual and paired competition and six rounds of team competition.
While once considered a leisure activity, Boccia was introduced as a competitive sport at the 1984 Paralympic Games in New York.
Richards says he cannot believe the growth of a sport he only came to know barely a year ago. This year’s Games’ Boccia event drew nearly 100 wheelchair athletes, significantly more than last year’s Games, said Erin Greene, adaptive sports consultant for Paralyzed Veterans of America.
“I credit the growth to the Boccia clinics we’ve run that have brought in more people to get involved,” Green said. “Everyone enjoys it because it’s not a physical sport; it’s a strategy. Once you get hooked into the strategy, you love it.”
The VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America thus far have run three Boccia clinics in Seattle, Sioux Falls, S.D., and at the Buckeye Wheelchair Games in Geneva, Ohio.
Richards, who took first place over 18 novices at the Games’ boccia event on June 22, 2015, competed with his team earlier this year in Montreal. The Games’ marked only his second competitive Boccia event, but he’s looking forward to competing more with the team – the Cluster Busters.
“This has taken off for us,” said recreational therapist Charley Wright of the Jefferson Barracks VA Medical Center in St. Louis. “The Cluster Busters now have the team name and the uniforms.”
As the 35th Games came to a close, Wright says he hopes the sport will continue to grow. This year, the USA Paralympic Boccia team will come to St. Louis to put on a clinic and scout for players at certain levels, he said.
“I’m excited the U.S. is starting to embrace Boccia because the U.S. is not the strongest team,” Wright said. “South America and Canada are way ahead of us.”
Green expresses the same enthusiasm as she considers the dramatic growth of the sport – particularly for those living with higher-level injuries who are typically more limited in the events they can compete in.
“We’re hoping to make Boccia a circuit event, especially because the sport gives quadriplegics another sport to participate in,” Green said.
The NVWG are co-presented by Paralyzed Veterans of America and the Department of Veterans Affairs.