The gym at All People's Life Center in Tampa is like any other. Wide open with a basketball court in the center and hoops lining the ceiling for various pickup games. The court itself has multiple lines on it to facilitate a variety of sports.
On Wednesday night, it was the site of athletes throwing footballs around, huddling up over potential plays and warming up like any other recreational league practice would begin.
The only difference is that these athletes were in wheelchairs.
As part of a host of events happening in the Tampa Bay area ahead of NFL Kickoff 2021, Hillsborough County unveiled the newest expansion team of the USA Wheelchair Football League: the Buccaneers. The now nine-team league competes nationwide and includes teams in Phoenix, Chicago, Los Angeles, Kansas City, Birmingham, Buffalo, Cleveland and New Orleans.
"I always tell people, it's not about what these guys can't do, it's about what they can do, and this is one sport that we haven't tried yet, but it's something they can do," said recreational therapist Wayne Bozeman, who serves as one of the coaches for the Buccaneers. "They can do a lot more people think they can. And this is something that's really challenging them now, especially these helmets and you're trying to catch the ball and all that kind of stuff, and they're really excited about playing this game."
View photos of Hillsborough County introducing the Buccaneers Wheelchair Football Team before a practice at All People's Life Center.
The Hillsborough County Buccaneers were formed through Hillsborough County Adaptive Sports, a signature program of their parks and recreation department.
Super Bowl XXXVII MVP Dexter Jackson was on hand at practice Wednesday to present the team with their official gear as they get set to kick off their own season on September 11. The team will travel to Phoenix, Arizona for their inaugural tournament.
"I think it's very key," said Jackson of making football accessible to everyone. "Don't give up your dream. They're still able to go out and play football and have fun and just enjoy friendship with other people. That's the biggest advantage to get out and enjoy the game that so many Americans love especially here in Hillsborough County."
Wheelchair football is a full-contact, hard-hitting, fast-paced sport that is growing rapidly in the US. The league is a first of its kind for adults with physical disabilities looking to play America's favorite sport, according to the Move United website.
This is the first wheelchair football team for Hillsborough County's adaptive sports program, which promotes health, independence, and personal growth through sports for people with physical disabilities. They run other adaptive leagues in sports like basketball, with the team even winning a championship in recent years. The USA Wheelchair Football League (USAWFL) is a program of "Move United", a nonprofit organization devoted to the promotion of parasports among youths and adults with physical disabilities. League expansion was made possible through the NFL Salute to Service Award and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
"Across the country everybody's going to know we're playing with the Super Bowl champs supporting us," said Bozeman. "I don't know what they got, but we got Super Bowl champs."