What Is Wheelchair Softball?
Wheelchair softball is a bat and ball sport played between two teams with 10-14 players on a field or “ball diamond". Pitches are underhand and played on a field smaller than its counterpart, baseball. The ball is larger in diameter. Despite the name softball, the standard softball is not soft, in fact, it is harder than a baseball.
The game is played under the official rules following the 16” rules of slow pitch softball as set forth by the Amateur Softball Association of America.
Although we don’t know who may have picked up the first ball and bat we do know that organized softball began with the Sioux Wheelers in Sioux Falls, SD.
Good news traveled fast in the mid 1970’s around the upper Midwest with teams such as the Des Moines Roadrunners, The Courage Rolling Gophers, and The University of Illinois wheelchair softball teams being formed.
National Association Formed
In 1976, the National Wheelchair Softball Association (NWSA) was formed as the national governing body of the sport with Dave VanBuskirk presiding as NWSA's first commissioner. Under NWSA's direction, the league expanded in the late 1970's to include such teams as the Quint City Roughriders and a team from Omaha.
In the 1980’s Jon Speake expanded the NWSA to help it become what it is today. He led the association for over 20 years until his untimely death in 2005.
Illinois boasted several new teams in the 1980’s which included the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, Urbana Black Knights, RIC Rollers, Chicago Pacemakers, Chicago Sidewinders, Windy City Snakes and the Chicago Bulls. Joining that lineup were the Wisconsin PVA Badgers and The Great Plains Drifters.
The Midwest set the stage in the late 1980’s to early 1990’s expanding wheelchair softball with developing teams in Ohio, Kansas and Missouri. By the mid 1990’s the game spread even further to include Maryland, Colorado and Texas.
In the late 1990’s Texas and Illinois boasted 3 or more teams participating. Since that period of fast growth their programs have felt the consequences and suffered because of it. In 1998 the sport was introduced in New York and many new teams formed along the coast.
With the turn of the century more new teams continue to develop and the program continues to grow.
Since its beginnings women have been a part of softball. Until recently teams have had both men and women on them. For over 30 years, women have played side-by-side with male players with their local team.
In 2003, history was made with the introduction of the American Divas - a women's team dedicated to promoting additional opportunities for female athletes. At the National Tournament that same year, the Divas finished 15th in the country.
Rules Of The Game
There are 15 exceptions as stated in the national association's rules. One requirement is that all players use a manual wheelchair with foot platforms. Players play on hard surfaces such as a parking lot.
Some players use a batting cage to lock their wheelchair in place while batting.
Learn more about the rules in detail.
The National Wheelchair Softball Association (NWSA) uses a classification system to create an equal and competitive playing field. All players participating at the National Wheelchair Softball Tournament are required to be classified by an official who will assign a specific point value to each player.
Teams are balanced by the following point system:
Quad (any) = 1 point Class I = 1 point Class II = 2 points Class III = 3 points
At no time in a game shall a team have players participating with a total value of points greater than 22.
Teams include Juniors, Women and International.
Basic equipment includes a manual wheelchair, (sports wheelchairs with lots of camber in the wheels work best), 16” softball and a bat.
Getting involved in wheelchair softball and other sports has provided opportunities that go beyond personal enjoyment. For many it is a way to make a difference in the life of someone through organizing games, volunteering to teach the youth, or sharing their own life story. The impact can be tremendous.
Get involved today. Contact your local state organization or the National Association to learn more.