Wheelchair football athletes from multiple cities competed in the Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association’s home tournament over two consecutive weekend days at the College of Lake County in Grayslake.
This year marked the third year of USA Wheelchair Football League tournament competition.
The USAWFL is a program of Move United that is made possible in part by NFL-BWF (Bob Woodruff Foundation) Salute to Service “Healthy Lifestyles and Creating Community” funding, as well as by team support of the Chicago Bears.
The GLASA Chicago Bears Wheelchair Football Team practiced in a north parking lot of CLC on Aug. 16 where the weekend tournament took place on two fields.
GLASA Chicago Bears is made up of 17 competitive players with 14 who competed in this year’s tournament with eight teams total taking part in the season opener. The USAWFL has 11 teams nationally.
GLASA of Lake Forest provides more than 20 adaptive and paralympic sports opportunities year-round including the GLASA Chicago Bears Wheelchair Football competitive team and recreational wheelchair football.
The GLASA Chicago Bears team was part of the original four teams when the league started in 2019, also including teams in Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Arizona. The sport has expanded to include more than 700 athletes, coaches and volunteers participating in USA Wheelchair Football League programs.
The GLASA Chicago Bears team has three captains. The team is led by head coach and GLASA board president, Jason Sfire of North Barrington.
Sfire, who graduated from Lake Zurich High School participated in varsity football, tennis and wrestling.
Before practice on a balmy sunset evening on Aug. 16, Sfire was confident about this year’s GLASA Chicago Bears team season.
“We’re going to be really good,” Sfire said. “We’ve got a bunch of new athletes,” who are ready, “to get it done.”
Being connected to the Chicago Bears is a privilege, Sfire said.
“It means a lot. I grew up as a Chicago Bear as a kid and now I get to coach for the organization, wear their colors,” Sfire said, adding that it, “means everything to me.”
Sfire handed out team jerseys at that Wednesday practice. Athletes celebrated the moment with smiles and even with a round of singing “Happy Birthday” to a fellow teammate.
Mak Nong of Westmont, a team captain, was seen adjusting tires on wheelchairs before practice. Nong loves the sport, “very much.
“It’s a beautiful sport, maybe the best thing is just the camaraderie that we have with all these guys.
“It’s the best place to be,” Nong said.
“It’s an honor,” to be a Chicago Bear, Nong added.
“I mean, Chicago’s a great city, there’s a lot of culture here, there’s a lot of history, and to be able to represent a team like this … it’s a huge honor,” Nong said.
Gus Lease of Naperville, also a player, said, “What the Bears have done with this whole football league is amazing.”
Lease appreciates the Chicago Bears’ local support of wheelchair athlete training camps, as an example.
“They’ve been supportive coming out to the tournaments.
“It’s been amazing,” Lease said.
The USAWFL’s competitive teams, the grant from the NFL-BWF Salute to Service partnership and Move United have helped to grow the sport via coaching education, officials training and learn-to-play clinics.
With this support, GLASA has been able to host clinics in wheelchair football throughout the year, most recently at the GLASA Great Lakes Games in Lake Forest in partnership with the Chicago Bears including Bears alumni, staff and Chicago Bears mascot Staley Da Bear.
“These tournaments give our athletes the opportunity to put wheelchair football on display for the whole city to see,” Sfire said. “With the support of Move United, the NFL and the Bob Woodruff Foundation, we have the privilege to feature these adaptive athletes on a larger platform.”
The Kansas City Chiefs ended up taking the championship win. The Bears made it to the consolation game after losing to the Chiefs. The consolation game resulted in a tie.
The Great Lakes Adaptive Sports Association is a 501c3 nonprofit organization. Visit www.GLASA.org. The USA Wheelchair Football League is the first of its kind football league for adults with disabilities. Visit www.usawfl.org.