Softball is a fun, team-building sport that was adapted in 1975 so that wheelchair users and other people of varying physical disabilities can participate. One year later, the National Wheelchair Softball Association (NWSA), the governing body for wheelchair softball in the United states, was founded.
The sport was founded in the Midwest in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the first team being the Sioux Wheelers. It then spread around the Midwest in Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois. Those involved in adaptive softball, whether they are commissioners or players, have been dedicated to growing the number of teams involved over the last 30 years, as well as making this sport a Paralympic sport.
While the sport is primarily played in the summer, athletes will train during the off-season. Adaptive softball is a sport that has caught on in other countries and is now being played, worldwide, although it is currently not a Paralympic sport. However, the NWSA governs over 30 teams around the world and holds the Wheelchair Softball World Series (WSWS) annually to determine an annual champion. Up until 2013, the Wheelchair Softball World Series was known as the National Wheelchair Softball Tournament (NWST).
Several wheelchair softball teams have sought and found allegiance and sponsorship with their Major League Baseball (MLB) team counterparts, including the Chicago Cubs, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. All affiliated teams wear official MLB logos and uniforms and compete under their respective professional team’s logo.
According to the Wheelchair Sports Federation, the game is played under the official rules of the 16-inch slow pitch softball as approved by the Amateur Softball Association of America, with 15 exceptions that are geared toward the wheelchair user. Due to these adaptations, there some key factors that make adaptive softball unique.
Teams are balanced by a point system. This classification system is the same as the classification system for wheelchair basketball. The point system is as follows:
Quadriplegic (any) = 1 point
Class I = 1 point
Class II = 2 points
Class III = 3 points
A team must not have players participating with a total of more than 22 points. A team must have at least ten players, with one or more of them being quadriplegic, to be able to start a game.
For easy maneuverability in a wheelchair, instead of a typical baseball field, players will compete on a hard surface, such as a blacktop or parking lot, although it is painted like a traditional baseball diamond and field. The space between bases differs slightly, just by a mere 10 feet. While traditional softball bases are 60 feet apart, they are 50 feet apart in adaptive softball.
Much like in adaptive soccer, adaptive softball is played with a sports wheelchair. Sports wheelchairs are designed to help players make quick turns and reduce the likelihood of tipping over when maneuvering quickly on the field. Sports wheelchairs differ from traditional wheelchairs in that the wheels are angled about 20 degrees, (whereas a traditional wheelchair’s angle is two degrees), and they have anti-tips bars, or “wheelie bars,” on the backs of their chairs.
The Softball Itself
Another difference between softball and adaptive softball is the size of the softball itself. Softballs are 16 inches, allowing wheelchair users that are playing the sport to keep one hand on the wheelchair while they catch the softball without a glove.
If you are interested in learning more about adaptive softball for wheelchair users, the rules of the game or how you can participate or watch, check out resources on the following websites: