Paralympic Sport Club Spotlight: City of Las Vegas Adaptive Recreation and Clark County School District

By Jamie M. Blanchard | Aug. 16, 2013, 2:30 p.m. (ET)

Biweekly, will spotlight one of the Paralympic Sport Clubs making a difference in the Paralympic Movement. Created in 2007 by U.S. Paralympics, a division of the United States Olympic Committee, the community based Paralympic Sport Club program involves youth and adults with physical and visual disabilities in physical activity and sports in their community, regardless of skill level. The program currently has 183 active Paralympic Sport Clubs in 46 states and Washington, D.C. To find Paralympic Sport Clubs and other adaptive, disabled and Paralympic sport opportunities in your community, visit the Paralympic Resource Network.

When adaptive physical education teachers return to Clark County School District schools next week in Las Vegas, Barbara Chambers and Jonathan Foster will be there to provide an update on adaptive sport opportunities.

Chambers, who coordinates adaptive physical education teachers for the district, and Foster, who works for the City of Las Vegas, head up Paralympic Sport Club Las Vegas. The club is a collaborative program between CCSD and the city’s adaptive recreation department designed to introduce youth with physical and visual disabilities to Paralympic sports.

“The Clark County School District has about 330,000 children, with 11-percent being kids with some level of disability,” Chambers said. The adaptive physical education teachers are the front line in introducing school age children, from kindergarten through high school, to the opportunities present outside the school day.

“There are 60 adaptive physical education teachers that go to 350 schools around the valley,” Chambers said. “When they see a kid with a disability who might be appropriate for some of our activities, they give them information about our programs immediately so they have opportunities to do things outside of school like their classmates do.”

Paralympic Sport Club Las Vegas offers most opportunities outside of school hours.

“Basically, what we do is offer recreational opportunities, and some competitive opportunities, for kids after school and on weekends,” Foster said. “Once a month, we hold activity nights that give kids from kindergarten to 12th grade an introduction to sports. Once they get acclimated to something they enjoy, they can come to the city for afternoon and weekend activities.”

When athletes do find their niche, they thrive through Paralympic Sport Club Las Vegas. One participant, a wheelchair racer, recently competed at the high school track and field state championships with her time in a two-mile race ranking third against able bodied competitors.

“She earned points for her team with that performance, which brought her team to third place in the state,” Chambers said. “I received a bunch of phone calls from coaches. ‘How can I get a wheelchair athlete on our team?’”

The young woman just recently competed at the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports Federation Junior World Junior Games in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Programming offered by the club includes at least one activity in almost every Paralympic sport, including archery, sled hockey and swimming, and non-Paralympic sports like figure skating and golf.  “There is nothing better than an ice rink on a hot day,” Chambers said.

The most popular sports are wheelchair basketball and wheelchair rugby. “Not everyone is into participating in a team sport so we also see sports like cycling and track and field with a lot of participants,” Foster said.

The first activity night for the 2013-14 school year is Sept. 18. In addition to many sports activities, the Nevada Paralyzed Veterans Association is helping Paralympic Sport Club Las Vegas host a BBQ in conjunction with the activity night.

“The Nevada Paralyzed Veterans Association has always been a great help to us,” Chambers said.

Support is crucial for Paralympic Sport Club Las Vegas as both the city and the school district are subject to sequesters this year as well as budget cuts. Despite financial hardships, the club is looking forward to hosting tournaments for wheelchair basketball and wheelchair tennis later this year.

The club just wrapped up a summer camp.

“This year, we had about 55 kids who are physically disabled or visually impaired participate in a collaborative event between the City of Las Vegas and Clark County School District,” Chambers said. “We did everything like a regular camp, nothing like a school. We offered a bunch of different activities. We had sports. We had yoga. We had arts and crafts. We had everything that a camp would have.”

The day camp was six hours a day for five days.

“The cost was very minimal to parents,” Chambers said. “The tuition of $35 included breakfast, lunch, a T-shirt and all of the activities that a kid could want. We event took them to an ice rink. They were thrilled.”

The vast array of opportunities available through Paralympic Sport Club Last Vegas is part of the reason the club is so respected in the adaptive sports world.

City of Las Vegas and Clark County School District - Paralympic Sport Club Las Vegas received the Amazing Sport Club Award at the 2009 Paralympic Leadership Conference in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Amazing Sport Club Award, given by the United States Olympic Committee, is designed to recognize a Paralympic Sport Club that has made amazing contributions to the Paralympic Movement through daily promotion of the Paralympic ideas.

“We try to spread the passion that we have so everyone can see the benefit of watching kids grow through sport,” she said. “We love to show kids they can be independent. Kids have access to so much when they’re with us. We have them doing archery and cycling and skating and wheelchair basketball – all of these things they didn’t think they could do. They can be kids and they can invite their classmates and siblings to come play too.”

Paralympic Sport Las Vegas is also a great opportunity for parents.

“We love to show parents that their disabled kid can do anything their able-bodied siblings can do,” Chambers said. “Sometimes, I think what we do is more important for the parents than the kids. Because we’re full-inclusion at the Clark County School District, many parents don’t know anyone else who is raising a kid with a disability. They come here, they talk to other parents. They learn.”

Foster agrees.

“We see the benefits of sports and recreation for kids and their parents for many years to come,” he said.