Md. wheelchair lacrosse players seek to grow sport

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Mark Flounlacker and Mike Looney are no different than any other athletes. They haven’t let the fact that they use wheelchairs to get up and down the court stop them from playing a sport that they love — lacrosse.

“We are athletes, and it doesn’t matter that we have wheelchairs to get around the court,” Flounlacker said.

Flounlacker is the founder of Free State Wheelchair Lacrosse.

“Founder, manager, coach and player,” Looney joked.

The club is still in the startup process, much like the sport itself. The league needs both players and equipment, Free State Wheelchair Lacrosse held its first equipment drive July 18 at both Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium and Anne Arundel Community College.

In addition to equipment, Flounlacker hopes to attract the attention of the local lacrosse community.

“I’ve always kind of loved lacrosse, it’s a really fun sport, and it’s actually perfect to adapt to wheelchairs,” Flounlacker said. “I mean guys go out and they play wheelchair tennis and wheelchair basketball, and we just want people to know there’s another option.”

Wheelchair lacrosse has been around for less than five years. Though there are only four teams nationwide, the sport is quickly growing in popularity. Wheelchair Lacrosse USA periodically hosts clinics across the nation in order to boost recognition for the sport.

Flounlacker was to host one such clinic July 27 at the Freestate Athletic Arena in White Marsh. Both Looney and Flounlacker are hoping to use the clinic to drum up support for the club. It is their hope to enter a team into the first-ever wheelchair lacrosse tournament in August in Ocean City.

“Ideally we’d like to have 10-12 guys on the team,” Looney said.

Many of the athletes attracted to wheelchair lacrosse have never picked up a stick before. Looney, who played lacrosse in high school and college, knows how much fun the sport is, and is looking forward to playing the adaptive version.

Both men were introduced to the world of wheelchair sports after their injuries and say that it was a crucial part of their recovery.

Flounlacker fell from his tree stand while hunting one day in December of 2011. He injured his T-12/L1 vertebrae, paralyzing himself instantly. While rehab has helped him recover enough to walk with crutches, Flounlacker is still more than 50 percent paralyzed from the waist down. He became involved with wheelchair sports as a way to stay active.

“There are a couple of reasons that I got involved in it, and the main reason is that I still wanted to play,” he said. “The other reason is that I know just by my personal story how important it was for me to realize that my recreational life wasn’t over.”

Looney fell while rock climbing in 2000. He compressed his spine, also injuring the T-12 vertebrae. The Arnold resident frequently participates in wheelchair basketball and was named an All-American in college. He now works for the FAA as a disability programs manager, assisting disabled persons in finding jobs with the federal government.

He added that participating in wheelchair sports was therapy in itself.

“I recommend for anyone who has suffered a serious injury to get involved in sports, because it is a therapy,” Looney said. “The best thing about it is you are with guys who are in situations similar to you. When I first started playing, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to drive again, have a normal life, get married. But I saw the guys that I was with doing that, and I thought hey there is life for me after my injury.”

Opportunity is exactly what they are hoping to provide with Free State Wheelchair Lacrosse.

“Our goal is to form a team and then to build a small league in this area where we can play a little more often,” said Flounlacker. His ultimate goal is for wheelchair divisions to be added to lacrosse tournaments across the country.

For both men, lacrosse is mostly about playing the sport they love, but is also in part about dispelling stereotypes.

“We’re just like everyone else, there’s still that burning inside of us that we want to play sports, we want to beat other people,” Flounlacker said. “That’s what I really want people to know — that wheelchair athletes are just as passionate about sports.”

For more information on wheelchair lacrosse, contact Mark Flounlacker, 443-614-3483 or mflounlack@aol.com

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Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://capitalgazette.com

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