As part of inclusive recreation initiatives at UC Berkeley, the Recreational Sports Facility, or RSF, now offers a variety of adaptive sports for athletes and members with disabilities, providing clinics, courses, Zoom sessions, equipment and more. With a number of sports clinics already held this year, accessibility for adaptive athletes will continue to grow in Bear Territory.
Throughout March and April, the RSF hosted a total of five clinics for adaptive athletes, including wheelchair basketball and goalball. With funding from a new one-year grant from the Wellness Fee Fund for the Student Recreation Opportunity Fund set to kick in in July, the inclusive recreation efforts at Cal can continue to grow and reach more individuals.
Efforts such as these follow in the footsteps of established and tenured organizations such as Angel City Sports, which allows for adaptive athletes to compete in Paralympic-style events at the Angel City Games. The organization is an LA-based nonprofit serving to provide sports and community for local, national and international adaptive athletes. This year’s ninth annual Angel City Games are set to kick off Thursday and span over four days.
In 2013, Paralympian Ezra Frech and his father Clayton Frech noticed a problem. His father watched as Ezra Frech participated in his first adaptive sports track meet in Oklahoma.
“It was at this competition where my dad just posed the question: ‘Why are we coming halfway across the country (to) Tornado Alley, in tornado season, to run, jump and throw stuff?’ Why don’t we have proper access to sports opportunities for people with physical disabilities in Los Angeles?’” Ezra Frech said.
This lack of accessibility caught the attention of the family, creating a spark for the idea of an organization that serves as a facilitator and host for adaptive sports and competitions.
From there, Angel City Sports, unrelated to Angel City FC, would go on to organize the first Angel City Games in 2015, hosting 150 adaptive athletes and bringing in over 1,300 people in attendance. The Celebrity Wheelchair Basketball Game, broadcasted on FOX Sports radio, put the cherry on top of an impressive set of competitions and events.
Now, with years of events under its belt, Angel City Sports offers over 20 different adaptive sports, garnering hundreds of athletes and volunteers from around the world. New additions to the nonprofit, such as the Angel City Sports Rams Wheelchair Football Team, continue to show the growing efforts and impact curated by the organization.
“Our goal is to give people with physical disabilities an opportunity to play, be active and get into sports because we know and have witnessed firsthand the transformative power of sport. And maybe along the way – we will help create future (Paralympians) that will represent Team USA one day,” said Bahar Soomekh, Ezra Frech’s mother in a text message.
In the United States alone, up to 27% of adults have some type of disability, according to the CDC. Many are unable to access the expensive equipment necessary to live day-to-day, let alone play a sport. However, the emotional and psychological benefits of being active and playing sports are fundamental, according to the family, making Angel City Sports, its clinics and the Angel City Games that much more meaningful to adaptive athletes.
“For a community (that) is usually isolated in many forms of life, everywhere you go in public with a physical disability there are people staring, pointing fingers and whispering … you don’t really feel like you belong anywhere,” Ezra Frech said. “(We) provide sports opportunities for people with physical disabilities, but also bring people from all different walks of life together and give them a place where they do feel like they actually belong.”
The organization gives volunteers and spectators, as well as its athletes, an opportunity to learn and gain valuable experience, according to Angel City Sports Youth Council Leader Tyler Firtel. The council is a group of student volunteers that helps run the games as well as put on events.
What started as a question and a “what if” idea has turned into a spectacle, a hub and a place for communities to mesh and join together in playing sports to support an impactful initiative.
“Ever since (2013) … we have been working and growing and (have) now become one of the bigger adaptive sports nonprofits in the nation,” Ezra Frech said.
With organizations such as Angel City Sports leading the way, other programs such as the RSF’s inclusive recreation are steadily building more opportunities for adaptive athletes. With the established success of these initiatives, other programs and events continue to provide more avenues for inclusion in sports.