The VIP Suite at the Wells Fargo Sports Center in South Philadelphia, usually reserved for the rich or famous, was at full capacity for lunch as the winning raffle ticket number was read aloud to those kids and their families attending the 7th Annual Kids Sports Spectacular (KSS) hosted by United Spinal Association.
It took a while to discover the winner, as the exceptionally long 15-digit number was slowly announced. However, this crowd – most of whom use wheelchairs – knew something about patience and perseverance.
The day began on the morning of Saturday, August 13, with kids and young adults eagerly slipping on their colorful complimentary KSS tee shirts at the registration table.
Here on his first visit, 6-year-old Jayson Cedeno was so excited to attend, he insisted on getting a haircut the day before.
Jose Ayala traveled from Bristol, PA, and was back for his fourth year. His mom Mayra said, “He woke up really early this morning. This is his favorite sporting event. He looks forward to coming every year.” Jose was one of the first basketball players on the floor, repeatedly shooting hoops from his wheelchair.
Gavin Toney, 8 years old and from West Chester, Pennsylvania, was born without hands or lower legs and was back for his third visit.
His mom, Jeanelle Toney said, “He loves all sports – basketball, soccer, hockey, baseball and tennis.” She was not bragging. I watched Gavin lead the charge all day as he played one sport after another, either from his powerchair or running with full abandon on the half legs he had mastered. For the record, he stole three bases after hitting a single during baseball.
Four-year-old Mather Stover-Ling, born with spina bifida, was hesitant to hold the hockey stick his Mom was offering. Perhaps watching a dozen “powerplay hockey” players zipping across the arena floor in their powerchairs was a bit overwhelming. When he realized a swipe of the stick could whack the whiffle ball, he then exhausted his parents pushing his stroller after each shot.
Organized powerplay hockey was created in 2004 by Patrick Hilferty, a young adult quadriplegic. Patrick said, “It’s a good, fun experience available to anyone ages 8-41, using a powerchair. Our players have cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury or rheumatoid arthritis.” I suspect they also have a large dose of courage and resolve.
As if traditional sports were not enough of a challenge, teaching Martial Arts at the KSS was Rabbi Sensei Gary Moskowitz, who holds a Seventh Degree Black Belt in both Juijitsu and Karate; is a private investigator and former New York City police officer; and is director of Martial Arts Therapy.
“These kids have some very special abilities, and taught me new ways to use their body and minds that I can apply to other kids,” said Rabbi Moskowitz.
In addition to hosts United Spinal, Wells Fargo Center and Comcast Spectacor, there were a number of sponsors who helped make the day possible, including Bayada Nurses, Permobil, Aramark, and RideAway. Campbell’s Soup featured new and nutritious products. Easy Stand demonstrated their state of the art adaptive equipment. The Philadelphia Flyers, Pepsi Beverages Group, Philadelphia Wings Lacrosse, National Constitution Center, The Wheelchair Man Company, New Mobility magazine, “U Can Do” adaptive Pinball Machine and “Field of Dreams” South Jersey accessible baseball field also contributed to make the event extra special.
First-time KSS visitor, Shayla Gaither, whose wheelchair is as colorful and stylish as the electric pink hair braid she wears, came ready to try any sport. Her beautiful smile assures her of being on everyone’s team. “My dad always looks for cools events I can join,” said Shayla. Cool dad.
At lunch in the VIP lounge, former Para-Olympian athlete Laura Schwanger, introduced motivational speaker, Nick Gaynor – the Men’s & Women’s Villanova Basketball Teams’ student manager. Nick said he has learned that having a physical disability does not prevent someone from pursuing their dreams.
Then the long awaited raffle ticket was selected and the final digit was finally announced. The entire room broke into screams simultaneously. You see, everyone had been given the exact same 15-digit ticket and they were rewarded with gift bags to take home. Spectacular kids…winners all.