Coldstream’s Jacob Brayshaw, in his speciality Strike Force chair, will be among the 19 players competing this weekend in the B.C. Storm Power Soccer tournament at Vernon Secondary School. (Roger Knox/Morning Star)

Power soccer stars head to Vernon

Nearly 20 players set to compete in B.C. Storm Power Soccer tourney Saturday and Sunday at VSS

His shoulder-length red frizzy hair flowing beneath his beloved Kansas Jayhawks ball cap, Jacob Brayshaw straps into his Strike Force wheelchair and heads out onto the road in front of his Coldstream home.

There, with help from his dad, Douglas, mom, Michelle McCullough, and sister, Paige, Brayshaw practices his spin moves in his chair, complete with the specialized bumpers, and shoots an oversized leather soccer ball, the size of a small medicine ball, at a target.

Brayshaw is getting ready for this weekend’s 15th annual B.C. Storm Power Soccer Tournament, to be held Saturday and Sunday at Vernon Secondary.

“I’ve been playing indoor scooter soccer for seven years,” said Brayshaw, 15, a Grade 10 student at Vernon’s W.L. Seaton Secondary, who suffers from muscular dystrophy. “My mom heard about it from a friend while I was doing adaptive skiing. I tried it once and I’ve been playing it ever since.”

Power Soccer features two teams playing four-a-side — goalie and three others — in a gymnasium setting with all competitors in power chairs, all at different ages (oldest player is 71) and with varying disabilities, including muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, brain injuries and rheumatoid arthritis. The metal bumpers on the chairs propel the ball, though a player can’t be within three metres of the goalie in the crease.

Referees are able-bodied.

There will be 19 players taking part in Vernon this weekend.

“The teams will be mixed up in the tournament so that the newer players really get a feel for the game, and they integrate with the veteran players,” said McCullough, tournament organizer. “It’s a great opportunity for youth and adults to socialize with others with the same interests and it gives them a chance to be very active and competitive in their sport.”

Said Brayshaw, also a competitive swimmer: “It’s a great outlet, especially if you have a disability. You can blow off steam so you don’t lose your mind.”

Brayshaw, a Para-swimmer who set three Canadian S2 backstroke records in Kamloops this past weekend, loves the fact power soccer is a team sport he can play.

“My sister plays hockey. There’s sledge hockey but you need upper body strength for that,” said Brayshaw, who mainly plays the centre position and is rarely the goalie. “I like the camaraderie among the guys, always talking to each other, chirping each other sometimes.”

Now that he’s 15, Brayshaw has aspirations of making the national power soccer squad. He fundraised on his own to help pay the cost of the Strike Force chair, which can be anywhere between $8,000 and $15,000.

“Many of our Division One players are also working toward playing on the provincial team at nationals in July,” said McCullough, also a coach.

Games start at 9 a.m. Saturday and Sunday at VSS, with the tournament’s opening ceremonies being held at 8:45 a.m. Saturday. Spectators are welcome.

Tournament sponsors include Kal Tire and TD Canada Trust, and the tournament also gets a big boost from Vernon’s Downtown Canada Safeway, donating food for the lunch being provided by Vernon Fire Rescue Services, led by firefighter and tournament booster Darren Cecchini.

“We have a great group of firefighters that volunteer with the tournament,” said McCullough.

Brayshaw and his Okanagan teammates meet once a week in Kelowna for practices. This weekend marks the first time the tournament will be held in Vernon. The first 14 tournaments have been held in Penticton.

“It’s going to be pretty nice not having to wake up super early,” smiled Brayshaw about playing at home. “It’s pretty cool to see how much work we’ve done and to be able to do it in our hometown.”

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