By Mason W. Canales

Killeen Daily Herald

HARKER HEIGHTS - The city's Adaptive Sports Program officially became a U.S. Paralympic Sport Club earlier this month, one year after its inception.

"Becoming a Paralympic Sport Club opens a big door of opportunities to continue to develop the adaptive sports program," Parks and Recreation Athletics Coordinator Joe Brown said.

U.S. Paralympics recognizes about 135 individual clubs across nation that provide athletic and recreational activities for those with physical and visual disabilities. It is also a division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, which is dedicated to becoming the world leader in the paralympic sports movement and to promote excellence in the lives of people with physical disabilities.

The Harker Heights Paralympic Sport Club is the ninth club in the state, and is one of three clubs in Texas run by cities, with Houston and Pasadena heading up the other two municipal paralympic sport club organizations.

Being a U.S. Paralympic Sport Club will allow the city to network with other paralympic clubs across the nation, Brown said. But its website alone is a great tool that provides the Harker Heights adaptive sports program with information needed to create more programing.

"In Parks and Recreation, we tend not to reinvent the wheel, but rather ask other programs how they got started," Parks and Recreation Director Jerry Bark said. "If we come across an obstacle that we don't know how to handle, (the other U.S. Paralympic clubs) have come across it."

And the city plans to use this new resource to overcome those obstacles as well as it hopes other municipalities will start to look to Harker Heights as a model for creating an adaptive sports program.

The U.S. Paralympic organization has already recognized Brown as a spokesperson for creating municipal adaptive sports programs, Bark said. Brown will be serving on discussion panel in Colorado Springs, Colo., at a Paralympic Sport Club Convention to discuss municipal programing.

The title and membership to the U.S. Paralympic Sport Club also will help with grant funding for programs as well as sponsorships for the local program, Bark said.

"There are several grants opportunities that the paralypmic movement has been given," Brown said. "We will apply for those grants yearly."

The city already has been awarded one grant for $23,000 to resurface the Recreation Center's basketball court and purchase more adaptive sports wheelchairs.

"As we look to add to our programs and enhance the programs that we have, this will be an instrumental piece to accomplish and get that equipment," Brown said.

The city also has been fortunate getting support from local businesses such as Heights Lumber, Walmart and others, Bark said. Being named a U.S. Paralympic Club will give the organization more credibility that may open up those sponsorships to national corporations.

Benefits trump cost

The cost to Parks and Recreation of becoming a U.S. Paralympic Sport Club is outweighed by the benefits, Bark said.

Quarterly, the department will have to update the U.S. Paralympics about its organization, Bark said. Other costs are simply that of dedicating staffing to the programs and expanding programing.

The city is currently operating the following adaptive sports programs: youth soccer, adult softball for wounded warriors, wheelchair basketball, adaptive rock climbing, wheelchair pickle ball, adult volleyball for wounded warriors and a few others.

The program is also looking to create: paralympic tennis, archery, soccer, softball, fencing and wounded warrior pickle ball and dodgeball - and youth kickball and basketball.

While the wounded warrior programs are definitely a benefit to those who play in them and the community, the youth program is what is really going to grow in the coming years, Brown said.

"I am tremendously thrilled for our athletes," Brown said about the U.S. Paralympic status. "I am excited about our kids in our program, because these kids that grow up in this program will be paralympic athletes."

"Every sport or activity an abled body can do is non-abled body can do too," Bark said saying there is no limit for where the program can go. "Our motto is that benefits are endless and we can provide that through Parks and Recreation. Everything in life improves with parks and recreation, and you don't even realize it."

Becoming a U.S. Paralympic Sport Club is a great achievement for the city, which hopes to continue its club with the aid of Fort Hood by providing the soldiers who live in the community a place to be active, Bark said.

"When this seed was hatched, we envisioned that there was a place in for adaptive sports in this community," Bark said. "It is a pleasant surprise to see the way this has taken off."

Contact Mason W. Canales or (254) 501-7554. Follow him on Twitter at KDHheights.

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