GREENFIELD — Eleven-year-old Luke Bertsch zipped by in his motorized wheelchair — sporting a bright green mohawk — and grinned at his parents and grandparents Saturday morning, after scoring a goal in a power soccer match at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Greenfield.
Since he was six years old, the Eastern Hancock sixth-grader has played power soccer for six consecutive years.
His face lit up Saturday as he glided up and down court, his smile shining brightly. The doubleheader was held at the church gymnasium.
His mohawk was dyed a bright green color to match the Hotshots’ team color, the Hotshots.
“You don’t want to use your own chairs in these matches because they’ll get beat up pretty quickly,”Angie Chaffee, Hotshots coach from New Palestine, whose daughter Lizzie is 13, is part of the team.
Power soccer has been played in different countries for decades, according to PowerSoccerUSA.org. It has become an international sport with 250 competing teams around the world.
The United States Power Soccer Association oversees the sport in America. Teams play at four levels and then move up to the premier league, which feeds into the U.S. National Team.
The Hotshots — who compete in the entry level of the association — are currently ranked first in their division among eight teams.
The team includes players aged 10 to 28, and three Hancock County teens. Two of the team members drive in from Ohio while Zach Arland — the lone adult on the team — commutes from his home in Muncie.
The players move swiftly in specialized wheelchairs that can turn at a moment’s notice and accelerate up to 6.1 mph. That’s faster than Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps slices through the water.
In their latest matchup, the Hotshots twice defeated their opponents — the Inferno of Indianapolis — with a score of 4-1 in the first match and 4-3 in the second.
But the players say that winning isn’t what it’s all about.
“I enjoy the sense of community and the sense of independence it brings to my life. I like the competitive spirit it brings out in me,”Arland works as a front desk clerk in a Muncie hotel.
Luke Pool (16) from Eaton, Ohio said that power soccer was a great outlet for him competitive nature.
Saturday’s matchup was a great opportunity for him to showcase his signature move — carefully lining up his chair with the ball before spinning a quick 360 degrees to whip the ball into play from the sidelines.
Thirteen-year-old Lizzie, a seventh-grader at New Palestine Junior High School, said power soccer has given her the opportunity to play a sport that’s typically centered around more able-bodied kids.
“I can’t get up and run around and do regulation sports, so I love that I can actually be included,”She spoke. “My favorite part is playing with my friends and meeting new people who are just like me.”
Six Hotshots players said that playing power soccer was their favorite part.
The team typically drives an hour or two outside of Hancock County to play a match, which made this past weekend’s doubleheader in Greenfield a rare treat for the local players and their fans.
Shari Doud was the Eastern Hancock High School varsity girls basketball coach and was thrilled to be able Saturday to see her first ever power-soccer game.
She’s taught both Shelby and Luke B. at Eastern Hancock Middle School where she teaches language arts and social studies. She loved watching her students race up and down the court.
“This was the first power soccer match I had ever been to, and I was so impressed at how they maneuvered and used their powered chairs,”She spoke.
“The power soccer game was no different than any other athletic team event that you see at any other level. The camaraderie, willingness to work together and communication on the court were clearly evident, just like any other team sport,”Doud is an avid sports fan.
“I was just as impressed with Luke and his team as I have ever been at any other athletic function,”She spoke.
Chaffee said it’s an honor to coach such a determined group of athletes.
The team practices all year, competing in tournaments from January to April, sometimes even traveling as far as Chicago, St. Louis, and Cleveland.
“It’s a great group of kids,”She spoke.
While they’ve all found themselves in wheelchairs for a variety of different reasons — including cerebral palsy, spinal muscular atrophy, and spina bifida — they’re united by a love for the sport.
Chaffee said it’s incredible to see the level of camaraderie that exists among players across team lines.
“It’s a community, which is really awesome. Even though they may play against each other and be absolutely competitive, as soon as the whistle blows, they’re best friends,”She spoke.
The majority of power soccer players in the league are adults. This makes the Hotshots somewhat of an anomaly.
“We have one adult and five children, so we’ve been maturing together. We’ve been learning and practicing and growing as a team, and it’s showing in our record,”Chaffee said.
The coach has been focusing his efforts on teaching the team mental toughness through chair control. This will help them to be more precise and to have a better understanding of how to maneuver their chairs to connect to the ball in the right way.
“It’s a lot like playing pool. How you hit the ball is really important,”Coach. “You’ve got to find just the right angle to get the ball to go where you want it to go, which takes a lot of practice.”
She encourages the general public to follow the Hotshots via social media and to catch a match sometime.
Each game is split into two halves of 20 minutes each. Each team has three forwards and one goalie.
Although admission is usually free, donations are appreciated to help the Hotshots pay expenses.
“We cover our own fees and raise our own funds. Like any sport, all the travel and hotel rooms can get expensive, but it’s worth it,” said Chaffee, who can’t overestimate the value of seeing her daughter’s eyes light up as she zips up and down the court.
“Finding something like this where she can be out there and be accepted has been a blessing to our whole family,”Chaffee said.