When Ian Kinmont suggested the establishment of a power soccer club at Santa Rosa Junior College and asked Kathy Bell to be the faculty adviser, it mattered little that Bell knew nothing about the sport.
Bell, an adaptive physical education teacher who works with students with spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other medical issues, said she was initially skeptical that Kinmont could generate enough interest to sustain a team in which players who use power wheelchairs to dribble and pass a larger-than-typical soccer ball on a playing field that is usually a basketball court.
Two years later, with the Rolling Bears holding weekly practices and pulling in new players, Bell is a believer.
“It’s just kind of slowly building,” she said, crediting Kinmont’s drive for the club’s success. “He’s just been dogged about it.”
The team, the Rolling Bears, debuted this week with a 3-5 loss to the Sacramento Valley Flames in the gym at Analy High School.
Played in different forms around the world for decades, power soccer is now becoming a regulated international sport with a governing body and uniform set of rules. Just like in traditional soccer, a World Cup is held every four years. But unlike in traditional soccer, the U.S. has brought home the trophy in 2007 and again in 2011 — the only two World Cups held.
“When you are watching the sport, you are watching something in its genesis,” said Ben Kinmont, Ian’s dad who for eight years has helped get Ian, now 21, from Sebastopol to Berkeley for power soccer practices with a competitive Bay Area team.
Ian Kinmont, 21, was convinced that if Sonoma County residents found out about power soccer, there would be more than enough interest to build and sustain a team.
“Here’s a population of people who have never had a chance to compete in their lives,” Ben Kinmont said. “To him, that’s where the spirit is. He likes that people are meeting each other, that everybody plays together. Everyone has the right to play.”
Ian, who has cerebral palsy, is fresh from a national championship with his Berkeley Crushers club this spring. He doesn’t compete with the Rolling Bears, he’s the coach and president of the club. He sets up practice, dreams up fundraisers and works to find teams the Rolling Bears can compete with.
“He’s a good coach. He comes with drills ready,” Bell said.
“In the beginning, they couldn’t control the ball; they are just zipping around and crashing into each other,” she said. “But seriously, within four or six practices I could totally see them control the ball and pass the ball.”
Ian Kinmont works with players to develop control of both the chair and the ball.
“You are allowed to bump into people because that is how you get the ball. Just like you trip people in regular soccer,” he said.
Excessive speed, which referees monitor and which must remain slower than 6.2 mph, is treated as a foul and can earn a yellow card.
There are about 60 competitive club teams in the U.S. and likely as many as 40 more recreational squads, said Jonathan Newman, the adult sports coordinator for the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program in Berkeley where Kinmont competes with the Crushers. Newman, who was a part of the international committee that in 2004 worked to create a set of universal rules, said power soccer is the most popular sport that actually incorporates the chair into the activity.