Five area athletes had starring roles in the Lone Star State, as players from the Columbia Fireballs and the Richmond County Dream Team flew to Houston last month and participated in a wheelchair soccer exhibition game.
Several members of the Fireballs wheelchair basketball team have been honored lately. Team members are: Robert Williams (from left), Lauren Giles, Matt Miklas (front), coach Joni Lawton, Ryan Peck and Kurt lawton.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
Fireballs' members Matt Miklas, Lauren Giles, Ryan Peck and Kurt Lawton, and Richmond County's Robert Williams, were among the 14-player Georgia All-Star team selected by the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs to compete in Texas.
The Georgia All-stars were divided into two teams. The five local junior players were on the Red squad, which was led by Fireballs coach Joni Lawton.
The soccer exhibition game was played on Jan. 17 during the Adult National Tournament, and the local athletes were not just there to sharpen their shooting and passing skills - the Georgia All-stars helped exemplify the benefits of adaptive sports programs for junior players.
"Georgia is a model for junior programs, because we are the only state with a community supported junior program," Coach Lawton said. "We wanted to show other states what we could do, and the adult teams said they were all going to go home and start funding for their own junior programs."
In addition to the soccer game, the Georgia All-stars visited the NASA Space Center during the four-day trip.
AAASP paid travel expenses for the players and coaches, and an extra perk was the chance to meet Evander Holyfield - the former heavyweight boxing champion helped coached the Blue Georgia All-star team.
Coach Lawton also had an assistant with a solid sporting resume - Jean Driscoll, the only eight-time winner of the Boston Marathon, helped coach the Red team in the exhibition game.
When the soccer stars prepared to return home, Driscoll gave each player an autographed copy of her book, which is titled "Determined to Win."
Determination is a one-word description of most disabled athletes.
"Since I started with the Fireballs I've been able to play sports and be more active," said Riverside Middle School student Ryan Peck. "Before, I could never play sports. I love sports, so it has helped me a lot."
Although she's in her first year of playing adaptive sports, Lauren Giles earned a spot on the all-star soccer team. The Lakeside High School student has muscular dystrophy, but her desire is also a defining characteristic.
"I was very nervous and unsure how I was going to do, but it was great. I had my teammates around to keep me company," Lauren said. "I din't know there were so many other people in wheelchairs. We have a different kind of connection."
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