Robins Air Force Base Introduces Disabled to Racquetball

Steven Harper, left, with the Military Racquetball Federation plays a game with Harlon Matthews with Henry County Parks and Recreation at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., on March 9, 2016. (Jason Vorhees/The Macon Telegraph via AP)
Steven Harper, left, with the Military Racquetball Federation plays a game with Harlon Matthews with Henry County Parks and Recreation at Robins Air Force Base, Ga., on March 9, 2016. (Jason Vorhees/The Macon Telegraph via AP)

WARNER ROBINS, Ga. -- Something important has been missing from Minsoo Kim's life since he graduated from high school in 2012.

Houston County schools have one of the state's most vibrant athletic programs for handicapped students, and Kim was an active participant. He has cerebral palsy, but participated in multiple sports. That included playing on the county's state champion wheelchair basketball team.

He hasn't been able to compete in sports much since high school partly because of the specialized equipment that's required.

But he was competing in a new sport this past week thanks to a clinic at Robins Air Force Base. The base opened its racquetball courts to allow those with disabilities to give the fast-moving sport a try. Specialized wheelchairs that cost $2,000 each were available.

Kim was able to participate because his dad is a contractor at the base, and he enjoyed it.

"It's a good experience," said Kim, who is an education student at Fort Valley State University. "It's a good start, I really want to see it grow so that more and more people can attend and participate."

The Military Racquetball Federation is putting on the clinics across the country. Although no veterans were participating at Robins this past week, it is aimed at helping veterans with mental and physical handicaps get involved with the sport.

Fred Rogers, an Air Force retiree who works as a civilian at Robins, is a national champion racquetball player. He was helping with the camp and said the sport is particularly good for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"You can hit the ball as hard as you want," Rogers said. "It's great for anger-management."

One variation is a larger, softer ball. A regulation racquetball is small, hard and fast-moving. The ball for handicapped play moves slower and is quieter. That's also helpful to those with PTSD who cannot tolerate loud noises.

Rogers said he would like to have handicapped racquetball available at Robins more often, but the $2,000 price tag on the chairs could be an issue. The chairs used recently for the clinic were on loan.

Kim said it would mean a lot to him if athletic opportunities were available to handicapped people in Houston County after they graduate from high school. Participating in sports, he said, helps his body cope with his condition.

"I would really like it if we could make teams here," he said. "That way, we can continue to play after we graduate."

One problem for handicapped sports is finding competitors. But Rogers said an advantage of racquetball is that it's something people can play by themselves.

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