The Buc players weren't nearly as adept at handling wheelchairs as the assisted sports athletes at Shriners Hospital for Children
A volleyball net. A beach ball. Loud, pulsating music. Two teams eager to square off in match play.
Sure, you can find these things on any given Saturday afternoon out at Clearwater Beach. On Tuesday morning, however, this was the scene at Shriners Hospital for Children in North Tampa.
The hospital, which provides medical services free of charge to all patients, specializes in orthopedic care for children with birth defects, physical abnormalities or other health conditions which have resulted in the loss or limited mobility of limbs.
This week, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Nate Lawrie, Sean Mahan, Greg Spires, Matt Stinchcomb, Jeb Terry and Ellis Wyms took some time Tuesday to visit with young patients at the hospital. On this occasion, the players did more than just sit and talk with the kids. Some of the athletes learned firsthand what it's like to play adapted sports from the seat of a wheelchair.
Adapted sports give all children, regardless of health or physical handicap, the ability to participate. Tuesday's sport was volleyball, played in the recreation center with a lowered net and a beach ball. Since several patients were confined to their wheelchairs, some Buccaneers thought it was only fair to level the playing field and compete from wheelchairs as well.
Lawrie, Stinchcomb and Terry struggled at first to move the wheels of their chairs quickly enough to hit the ball before it hit the ground. In fact, they never improved much at maneuvering the chairs, and the Bucs were soundly defeated by the kids. For the visiting players, it was a day for life lessons as well volleyball lessons.
"It does change your perspective greatly [to be in the wheelchair]," said Stinchcomb. "It was funny because the kids were a lot better at that volleyball than we were. It was really encouraging to watch the kids interact with us and basically whip us at volleyball."
Andi Bennett, Child Life Coordinator for Shriners Hospital, realized the extent to which the Buccaneers benefited from the visit as much as the patients.
"Honestly, I think it means just as much to the guys as it does to the kids," said Bennett. "They get to learn a little bit about why our kids are here and how they're able to do anything that other kids without disabilities are able to do."
Spires had the best description of the day for the courage and determination these young patients use to face each new day.
"These kids take it one day at a time," he said, "and they're enjoying life."