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A wheelchair dodgeball tournament was about more than dodgeball to these kids

Kids playing wheelchair dodgeball
Kids playing wheelchair dodgeball at the Mary Free Bed Jr. Wheelchair Sports Camp at Grand Valley State University

A camp for disabled kids held a dodgeball tournament Wednesday at Grand Valley State University.

A simple game of dodgeball can make a big difference for some kids. Unlike most dodgeball games at summer camps across the country, everyone playing in this game was in a wheelchair.

About 48 kids participated in the annual tournament, but friendship and support is what the camp is really all about.

Mackenzie Haag played the tournament for the fifth year in a row at the Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital. She says she wants more disabled kids to try this camp out.

“You just kind of find out that you will fit in a lot more than you realize because so many people, like I said, go through the same things on a day to day basis,” Haag said.

Haag mostly plays basketball. But the 13-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana dominated in the dodgeball tournament, even though her team didn’t win.

The camp, which has 58 kids this summer, has been around for more than 30 years. Haag is looking forward to another year at camp next summer.

It's a sports camp, but camp organizers see it more as a social club for disabled kids who are looking for friends.

Maria Besta, the manager of Wheelchair and Adaptive Sports with Mary Free Bed, says the camp goes beyond dodgeball.

“It’s just wonderful to see how kids and adults with disabilities, how sports helps them. It’s a natural support system to them,” Besta said.

The camp is free to all kids with disabilities between ages 7 and 18 and kids come from all over the Midwest every year.

John Van Ooyen, an instructor with the Junior Wheelchair Sports camp, says this camp is a great place for disabled kids.

“These kids have all this opportunity to be able to build up their skills, and character, and their self-confidence. That’s the biggest thing for these kids, having self-confidence,” Van Ooyen said.

Van Ooyen has been at the camp for two years and was a wheelchair athlete for about 20 years before that in sports like basketball and hockey.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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