Power Soccer coming to Charleroi

| Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Power Soccer is coming to the Mid-Mon Valley.

Featuring four teams of disabled athletes using power wheelchairs, the Steel City Invitational will be held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 29 in the auxiliary gymnasium at the Charleroi Area High School sports complex.

“We are very pleased to introduce Power Soccer to the people of the metropolitan Pittsburgh area,” said Tom Cunningham, an assistant coach in the program. “And we're deeply grateful to athletic director Bill Wiltz and Charleroi Area officials for making their excellent facilities available for the tournament.”

Free and open to the public, the Steel City Invitational will be a homecoming of sorts for Cunningham, a Speers native and 1978 graduate of Charleroi Area, where he was an outstanding baseball player, and his son Andrew Cunningham.

Andrew is a member of the Central New York United team that will compete in the tournament. Others in the field are the Circle City Rollers of Indianapolis, Turnstone Flyers of Fort Wayne, Ind., and Bennett Blazers of Baltimore.

Power Soccer is played on a regulation size basketball court. It is the first competitive sport developed specifically for power wheelchair users. Participants include people with quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, head trauma, stroke, spinal cord injury and other disabilities.

“It's something to watch some of the best Power Soccer athletes in the country compete,” Tom Cunningham, 52, said. “It's a fast-paced game and people will be amazed in watching them compete as hard any anyone else they've ever seen.”

Andrew, 13, is a member of the CNY United team that earlier this year won the United States Power Soccer Association Champions Conference Cup in a three-day tournament hosted by Turnstone Rehabilitation Center on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. By virtue of that championship, CNY United moved into the Premiere Conference, the top level of competition of the USPSA.

In addition to Andrew, who has a form of muscular dystrophy, CNY United's players are team captain Peyton Sefick, Skyler Canute, Ryan Charboneau, Hunter Schaeffer and Tony Reuter. Jim Sefick is the head coach, with Tom Cunningham as his assistant. Kenny Keppel serves as equipment manager and Mark Charboneau is the videographer.

Andrew has been playing Power Soccer for more than five years and is one of the youngest athletes in the CNY program.

While the Central New York United team travels around the country for tournaments and other games, a lot of time is spent practicing.

“There's always some uncertainty as to when the tournaments or games will be played but our athletes don't mind the practice sessions,” said Cunningham, the son of Tom and Helen (Hreha) Cunningham of Speers. “We run them through their drills for two-and-a-half hours each time they come to the gym and they are just as committed in practice as they would be in regular competition. They just don't let up. They want to be at their best at all times.”

While Power Soccer athletes are limited physically, teams are made up of college graduates, current college students and younger players like Andrew, an eighth grader.

“The team plays Power Soccer with a cerebral approach that you might expect from such a bright group but they also have a hard-nosed approach that serves them well.” Cunningham said.”Andrew and the others completely understand the concept of Power Soccer and it shows with their play on the court and in the success they've enjoyed.”

Additional information about the Steel City Invitational is available at 724-503-7603 or 315-345-1941.

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