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Veterans with disabilities in Ohio find joy in football

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Posted at 11:11 AM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-25 12:31:27-04

CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio — As the Cleveland Browns got set to play Thursday night at FirstEnergy Stadium in what some call a must win-game, another far more meaningful football game took place Wednesday at the Cleveland Heights Rec Center.

It’s giving local veterans an outlet to unwind and a new way to enjoy the sport they love.

“I made it a point if I had to be in the chair, okay, but I will be one fine-looking man in a chair,” said Samuel “Wheels” Johnson, a 57-year-old Army veteran.

Johnson has a big personality and a positive outlook on life. He takes that positive energy and passes it off to fellow veterans.

“I open my heart up to any veteran who needs to talk, or just to hang out or getaway,” Johnson said.

The pandemic has made it tough to catch up in person

“It’s been almost a year, no contact with no veterans, no nothing, no participation,” Johnson said.

But on Wednesday at the Cleveland Heights Rec Center, Johnson and his fellow veterans are playing a good old-fashioned football game, thanks to the VA and Adaptive Sports Ohio.

“The band back together again,” Johnson said.

It may look different — no score is kept here, and there are no bogus penalty flags—just pure joy for some who sacrificed so much for the country.

Johnson said events like these help veterans get “out and about communicating, congregating, fellowshipping.”

It also serves as a helpful tool in a veteran's rehabilitation regiment.

“It improves the quality of life,” said Aubrey Lash, a recreation therapist with the Cleveland VA. “Increases socialization, reduces isolation for the veterans — offering new leisure and exercise opportunities like this one.”

It’s also just good for morale.

“This is what we do,” Johnson said. “You want to hang. You want to roll with the veterans.”

Randy Ziemnik at WEWS first reported this story.