By Cameron Buford, Whatsgoodinsports.com
Every weekend there are weekend warriors who compete in sporting events from basketball to surfing and everything in between. To be any good or have success in these sports, athletes need to have confidence, a willingness to work hard, a desire to win, and the ability to be quality teammates. These same traits that the thousands of weekend warriors display each weekend are similar traits to some of the world’s best athletes.
Where able-body weekend warriors are able to find pick-up games just about anywhere and often don’t consider the challenges of playing hindered until they have an injury, adaptive sports athletes must first find the inner strength to find their way to a venue. After they find a place to play, they need to get out there and display the willingness to compete, similar to the hall of fame athletes most sports fans admire.
We all heard the saying, “necessity is the mother of all invention.” With Ezra Frech being born with “congenital limb differences,” the spawn of Angel City Sports was born. Father of would-be Paralympian Ezra, Clayton Frech, a long-time executive coach, non-profit founder, and business consultant, utilized his twenty-plus years of executive leadership experience to create Angel City Sports. This unique forum was created to provide athletes with physical disabilities a place to work and train together.
Founded in 2013, Angel City Sports provides free, year-round sports training, equipment, and competitive opportunities for adaptive sports athletes. Inspired by the young Ezra, adults, and veterans with physical differences and impairments, the belief is that they can change lives through the power of sports, both on and off the field of play.
Ezra Frech was born with congenital limb differences. Regardless, he did not get treated any different than the kids he went to school with by his parents anyway. This inclusion helped him to become the youngest USA athlete to compete at the 2019 World Par Athletics Championships and the second youngest Team USA athlete in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic games. The younger Frech also has his eyes set on competing in the upcoming 2028 Paralympics, which will be here in Los Angeles.
“It is one of the things I’m looking forward to the most in my entire life. I think about it all the time,” Ezra says about competing in the 2028 Paralympics. “I’m very much looking forward to competing in my hometown in front of my family and friends because a lot of those people aren’t going to be able to fly to Tokyo or Paris to watch me compete.”
Angel City Sports is now a leader in the adaptive and Paralympic sports movement, working to prepare athletes for the 2028 Olympics and Paralympic Games, which again will be held here in Southern California. This will be yet another opportunity for additional growth of the Paralympic movement!
Focusing on three primary, interconnected programming areas they can offer;
* Training and Development – They host adaptive and Paralympic sports clinics and a wide variety of sports throughout the year, including T&F, Golf, Swimming, Archery, Wheelchair Tennis, Wheelchair Basketball, Adaptive Kayaking, Para-rowing, Volleyball, Rock Climbing, and many more!
* Adaptive Sports Equipment – They are building an inventory of adaptive sports equipment to support individuals in their pursuit of sport. They now have 150 sport chairs that we loan out to athletes for free.
* Angel City Games – They host one of the country’s largest Paralympic competitions each June, featuring over a dozen Paralympic sports; such as T&F, Swimming, Archery, Wheelchair Tennis, Wheelchair Basketball, Goalball, Table Tennis and more.
“I come here to have fun, that’s the main thing,” Angel City Sports regular Simon Bartolome says to me as we convene on the corner of the basketball court, and he rocks his modified wheelchair forward and back. “Also, to play basketball and meet other people. It’s a community out here!”
“I learned about it in high school,” Simon said about how he learned of Angel City Sports. “I was always wondering what other adaptive sports I could get involved in, and Angel City was one of the programs I got into.”
Unaware of the Paralympics, Eric Duda was playing able-body Volleyball for the University of Florida when he was approached to be a Paralympian. He is now a 2-time Paralympian, having competed in Athens in 2004 and in Rio in 2016. Duda is now training for Paris 2024.
“To being able to represent your country, without going to the military; because it’s all I can do,” Duda explains his involvement with the Paralympics team. “To be able to do that, plus be an ambassador for the sport and the disable. I love it; I wouldn’t ask for anything different.”
“My parents didn’t give me outs. It was a little bit tough at times because there were no coaches to help me with some of this stuff,” Duda says looking back on his early days of playing adaptive sports. “That’s why I’m happy to be here now, especially with the sports media age, I can reach so many more people and let them know there are sports out there for you.”
We’ve heard what Angel City Sports mean to a frequent participant like Simon, and you have also heard from one of the coaches about maximizing your time in the gym. I also had an opportunity to chat with Team USA wheelchair basketball Paralympiain Matt Scott, who talked about the business of the game with me.
“Once a Paralympian, always a Paralympian,” explains Matt Scott, the five-time Paralympian and two-time gold medalist for the Team USA Wheelchair Basketball team. “I’m here to be a mentor for wheelchair basketball. Adaptive sports have been a big part of my life; to be honest it’s not big a part of my life; it is my life!”
“Played and resided in four different countries outside the states. Won gold medals, traveled the world,” Scott said proudly, exuding the confidence one would expect from a gold medalist. “To be honest, I don’t play this game; I am this game!” Scott added.
“That’s how you gain respect. That how you game notoriety, to be good at basketball when I was growing up, was everything,” Scott recalls growing up in Detroit. “I want to shine a beautiful light on our sports, and show people what we can do and emphasize our ability and not our disability.”
For good measure, I would like to share a testimonial from a new employee Angel City Sports recently brought on. After assisting with multiple events, Cris Lira was encouraged to join the staff and now gets to coordinate and work on their multi-events.
“I’ve been loving the process of creating these events for the community of LA and people with disabilities,” Chris said about enjoying his role with Angele City Sports. “It’s just a beautiful feeling to get everybody come out.”
“It’s beautiful to have that inclusivity, that community. It’s very motivating, joyful, and it changed my life,” Lita shares with me. “It’s amazing to be around people who want to stay active.”
Roughly 15% of the population in the US can benefit from these initiatives, and Angel City Sports needs sponsorship support to achieve its goals. Because schools and recreational centers generally DO NOT support these athletes or sports; this community suffers from either fragmentation or being economically disadvantaged, causing some athletes to suffer from depression and poor health.
You can support the vision and efforts of Angele City Sports by checking them out on angelcitysports.org, or email them at email@example.com. I’d also encourage you follow them on Instagram, FaceBook, and Twitterto receive updates on event schedules and dates.
Angel City Sports takes pride in providing training and development, equipment, and competition for children, adults, and veterans with physical disabilities. If you haven’t been to an event to see the spirit these athletes display, you should find time to do so. It won’t take long to see how sports impact lives and how competition brings out the best in people. Let us know your thoughts on this Paralympic movement by reaching out to me on Twitter @_voiceofthefans, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.