Executive Director and Co-Founder Tommie Storms of the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, Inc. (AAASP) joins the Atlanta Real Estate Forum podcast to discuss the association’s 25th anniversary and the journey of adapting sports across the country. Storms joins hosts Carol Morgan and Todd Schnick for the Around Atlanta segment.
After the 1996 Olympics, many kids inspired by the incredible athletes, including kids with disabilities, wanted to participate in sports. In Atlanta, the Paralympic Games, the first full-blown games centered around athletes with disabilities, were particularly inspirational. Disabled kids inspired by the games needed somewhere they could participate in popular sports.
Storms co-founded the American Association of Adapted Sports Programs, Inc., a charity focusing on adapting popular sports after the 1996 games. She met the needs of disabled kids with a dream of playing sports such as basketball, track and field and football by taking popular sports and adapting them for kids in wheelchairs. Mostly, the sports look similar but adapted for special needs and varying levels of abilities.
Noticing many similar community programs, Storms and her team saw a lack of school programs and focused on replicating their curriculum within the schools to meet this underserved niche. Information about their program and mission was circulated through different schools and eventually led to seasonal competitions, 35 programs across Georgia and tournaments. In their fifth year, they approached the Georgia High School Association to incorporate what they were doing into the sports infrastructure in Georgia.
“We’ve created a wonderful program,” said Storms. “An easy way for parents and kids to get involved.”
There was a learning curve and several barriers in the beginning. The association received concerns that children in wheelchairs were too fragile, and participation would lead to injuries. Newspapers also did not consider the games sports. Fortunately, after witnessing the games and experiencing them firsthand, many change their perspective.
“They will take you where you want to go if you can show them where there are barriers, how easily they are removed and how they can be a part of it,” stated Storms when discussing the barriers that they have overcome.
Their team, The Gwinnett Heat is advertised in newspapers and has previously won a state title. These teams regularly play against teams without disabled players and adapt the rules, using the association’s standardization and line of sporting goods.
The programs offered by AAASP assist teachers around the country in determining what sports their kids can play, what the adapted sport looks like and obtaining the equipment. What makes them unique is that they are the first and only interscholastic athletic association solely focused on adapted sports for kids with physical disabilities. Neglected by the school system, physically disabled kids who lacked cognitive impairment could not participate in a traditional team. That is the gap that the American Association for Adapted Sports Programs, Inc. fills.
This competitive program helps kids develop their strength, cardiovascular system as well as many other physical benefits. In Georgia, if a parent has a child with a disability, they can contact AAASP or declare themselves to a coach. The child must be in first through twelfth grade, with or without a wheelchair, able to ambulate on their own or use an assistive device. After contact is made, AAASP will determine the needs of the child and what is available nearby. In the Atlanta area, the focus is team sports, but track and field are available statewide.
The Wheelchair Varsity Finals Games has been televised since offered by the association. The event is broadcasted by the National Federation of State High Schools Association and covers boy’s and girl’s finals for associations across the nation. The State High School Basketball Championship takes place in Georgia. Storms comments that, “during events like this, it is incredible to see the kids enter arenas such as the Macon Coliseum and feel that what they are doing is exciting and meaningful. “
The most popular sport offered is wheelchair football and is adapted to play on basketball courts. Previously, Storms hosted Voice America and while there, she connected with a Japanese player who broke his neck playing American football. After they talked, he came to the U.S. to train with the association and this led to adapted American football teams in Japan.
The AAASP Aspire Awards, standing for Adapted Sports Programs in Recreation and Education, recognize outstanding programs across the nation and the top female and male athletes. There is also a media award for those who have focused on trying to make a difference by bringing their message to bigger audiences as well as an award for various leaders, legislators, volunteers and advocates. It is necessary to recognize the work everyone is doing apart from the organization.
Storms said when discussing the Aspire Awards, “You don’t have to be affiliated with us. If you know someone working to put these kids in a game or putting together some sports opportunities for them and they’re doing it in such a way that you’re inspired by it, and you think others would be too, please tell us about them.”
AAASP also offers a coaches education program that is very popular among university students. The training is also perfect for adapted P.E. teachers who would like to get more involved and is easily transferrable to any program. The program teaches handball, wheelchair football and basketball, track and field and offers administrative training. There is also a 45-minute online training program given on their website.
In their 25th year, AAASP is partnering with the National Federation of State High Schools Association and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. With this partnership, they publish the best practices on the AAASP’s website as a great resource and starting point for parents and coaches. In August, History Associates Incorporated is scanning and archiving the accumulated work of 25 years to capture their history and knowledge for people to build upon moving forward.
Storms explained the importance of archiving their history by saying, “We stood on the shoulders of a lot of people who came before us, and we want to be able to pass that on.”
Funding puts the wheels on the bus, and in Georgia, AAASP is lucky enough to receive paid fees from school systems and funding from the Georgia High School Association and the Georgia Department of Education. Profits from their line of sporting equipment as well as writing grants also fund their programs. In the past, they have worked with real estate groups and a few attorney groups. Previously, Keller Williams held their annual fundraising event and selected AAASP as one of the charities to receive funding.
Another great way to support the American Association of Adapted Sports, Inc. is to select them as your charity when shopping through Amazon Smile. For non-monetary involvement, training as a referee or attending the games with family and friends is a tremendous way to get involved.
“There is nothing like the appreciation these kids have when you come in. They’re just so glad you’re there. They appreciate so much that they belong and aren’t treated differently,” said Storms.
To get involved with the association and local adapted sports programs, contact the state coordinator and director, Robyn Hootselle at 678-283-4424. Learn more about the American Association of Adapted Sports, Inc. by visiting AdaptedSports.org. Listen to the interview above for more details!
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