LANCASTER, N.Y. (WKBW) — On the hot summer pavement, history is being made in Buffalo.
“Finding sport, finding purpose, that’s what it’s all about,” said United States Veteran Carrie Frank.
Football players are showing their mental and physical toughness, has no boundaries.
“It needs to spread, people need to know it’s out there,” said United States Veteran Matt Daniels.
Daniels is part of Buffalo’s first wheelchair football league, sponsored by the NFL Foundation and the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The team meets once a week to practice at Como Lake Park in Lancaster.
“I am Buffalo’s first ever football player—one of,” said Daniels. “This is amazing. I’m glad I was part of the first season.”
The team is made up of athletes who live with disabilities.
“It’s comforting, and they don’t ask me questions of why or how. It’s just, here you are, let’s play this game let’s get it going,” said David Cross.
Each player has a different story. Many, like Cross have served our country. Cross was injured while in the military. He was hit by an IED, and lost his leg as a result.
“I can only play physical sports,” he said. “I tried golf, it was too boring. Getting out there and playing competitively is everything to me.”
For U.S Veteran Carrie Frank, playing sports has provided her purpose.
“When you’re able to play stand-up sport for such a long time, and then you can’t, you have to forgive sport and then you have to drive on,” she said. “Without the Greater Adaptive Buffalo Sports Program, we wouldn’t be able to do this as adults.”
The team was assembled last season by Norm Page, the President of the Greater Buffalo Adaptive Sports Program.
“These athletes are incredible,” he said. “I get more out of this than they do, and that’s the truth. It’s rewarding. We’re all volunteers, every nickel we raise for our programs goes directly to our athletes.”
Norm’s son Adam Page is a three-time Paralympian and Gold Medalist.
“We have people here who have given a limb, injuries and birth defects. To be able to see the joy on their face thinking they’d never—especially football. Now, they can play football. The biggest thing in Western New York, Buffalo Bills football, and now they’re able to play football just like anyone else.”
There’s no shortage of physicality on this team, as the rules mirror that of the NFL.
“Full on blocking, hitting, everything,” said Daniels. “Pass interference. You need to touch your opponent, but hitting, everyone loves hitting,” he said with a laugh.
The team will play against 11 other teams across the country this season, in two separate tournaments in Chicago and Salt Lake City. While these players hope to come home with a trophy, the ability to play this sport is a priceless gift players like Carrie Frank say has saved their lives.
“The ability to have friends, to be part of something, to have socialization,” she said. “You don’t have to sit there and be in a corner anymore. You can shine. You can be tough-it’s okay. You can play sport.”
The team, coached by former Buffalo Bills Head Trainer Bud Carpenter and former East Aurora Football Coach Tim Wade, hopes to expand this program in the coming years to include a youth league.
Recently, Scott Bieler of West Herr Automotive Group donated 10 new adaptive wheelchairs for the team to use, which cost roughly $4,300 each.