Rough Riders Bring Wheelchair Soccer to SoCal

Brandon Hensley

Call it soccer’s version of “Murderball.”
For Joey Wells and other members of the Glendale Rough Riders, a dream was realized on Saturday Nov. 1 inside the Glendale College gymnasium where the first-ever organized power wheelchair soccer game in the Southland took place.

The two exhibition games pitted the Rough Riders against the Rollin’ Gauchos of Santa Barbara, and while the Gauchos won both games 6-0 and 3-1, nothing could dampen the spirits of the Rough Riders on this day.
“Oh man,” said Wells, a 21-year-old Glendale student, “It’s an adrenaline rush. I’m having a blast.”

Wells has muscular dystrophy, and power soccer gives him and others in wheelchairs an outlet to play competitive sports. The team consists of several Glendale students but also others from around the L.A. area.

“I love it,” said Well’s teammate Jorge Acevedo, who turns 38 this month. Acevedo was the victim of a car jacking on Christmas Day, 1999, when he was shot in the head and leg. He was in a coma for six months but miraculously survived.

“I’m here to make a difference,” he said, saying that things happen for a reason.
The Rough Riders were formed three months ago, and through hard work and long practices, their effort will pay off this season as they will compete in different tournaments across the state and in Nevada and Arizona.

Because they are the only team based in this region, they must travel many miles to play a game they’ve spent years waiting to be a part of.

Power soccer, while having been introduced to America in the 1980s, is new to Glendale, and the rules admittedly take some time to get used to.

“We have weird rules. Some rules are for soccer, some for basketball,” said Glendale coach Nes Mazmanyan, who has experience in wrestling and playing hockey.

A hybrid of both sports, the game requires teams of four, playing on a basketball court, to put a 13-inch soccer ball past the goal, two cones about 10 feet apart. The power chair players have guards around their feet to not only control and move the ball, but also to protect them from the impact of crashing into each other, which can happen often.

There are zones around each goal that prohibit 2 on 1 or 3 on 1 advantages when play occurs in there. Players must also be given 16 feet of space when in bounding the ball.

Players use a variety of nifty moves to advance the ball, including a spin kick, where the player lines up with his back against the competition, and then, in a move straight out of “The Fast and The Furious,” whips his chair 180 degrees as his feet meet the ball, shooting it down the court.

Wells was the lead example for this all day, as his play stood out from his teammates. Wells takes power soccer seriously, as evidenced by his hard play on the court.

“It’s not just something for fun,” said Wells’ mother Cindy, who helps manage the team. “It’s real competitive.”

Cindy mentioned her son’s competitiveness and desire to possibly play power soccer in the paraplegic Olympics someday. For now, he leads the Rough Riders as their team captain. “They picked me [as captain] just because I’m the most outspoken,” he said smiling.

The Rough Riders may not have officially adopted the Oakland Raiders’ motto “Commitment to Excellence,” but they are dedicated to making it a good season, as their schedule consists of three-hour practices on Fridays and four-hour sessions on Sundays.

It allows them time to get fully acquainted with the sport in their inaugural season.
“We’re new to the sport, and you’re dealing with not only the players but the players’ chairs and how to figure out the rules and regulations,” Mazmanyan said.

A potential roadblock for the team may be the lack of funds for not only transportation to the games, but also equipment.. Cindy talked about the need for money to help fund their season.

“We need sponsors to get the guards that we need,” she said, referring to the lack of metal guards the team has. Instead, Glendale currently uses plastic guards, which don’t allow the ball to travel as far when hit. “We’ll hopefully have a poker night.”

Overcoming obstacles doesn’t seem to be anything new for the Rough Riders. Their team name seems quite apropos. And so they’ll push on. “No matter what how hard life is, I learned that others have it harder than me. I learned to keep going and going,” Acevedo said.

The Rough Riders are now pioneers of power soccer in the Southland, and Acevedo is extending an invitation to anyone interested in getting involved.

“We want everyone in a wheelchair to take advantage and learn about wheelchair soccer,” he said…We can do things.
We can also compete to the highest level we can.”

For more information on power soccer, visit Donations to the Glendale Rough Riders can be made by visiting the bookstore on campus.