By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY – A nonprofit military organization is working with the local VA to bring adaptive pickleball games to City Park veterans.
Military Adaptive Court Sports is a non-profit organization founded in 2009 for the rehabilitation of veterans through recreational sports clinics. He has partnered with community organizations to run pickleball and racquetball clinics at VA hospitals from Durham to San Diego.
The clinics cater to the growing number of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, head trauma and combat injuries. The MACS reports that approximately 625,000 veterans suffer from PTSD or brain damage, while at least 20 veterans and military personnel kill themselves every day.
Clinics last six to eight weeks, with an average of 12 participants in each period. The MACS reports that nearly 700 veterans were assisted under the program last year at its nine national clinics.
Working with Jack Meggett, Recreation Therapist at Salisbury VA, founder Steven Harper will run a six-week clinic Tuesday mornings around 9:30 am, starting June 8 at Salisbury City Park on Lake Drive. It is planning a graduation ceremony for participating veterans on July 29.
“And after six weeks, they know they’ve accomplished something,” Harper said.
Racquetball and Pickleball are fast-paced games that can help veterans regain their physical strength, coordination, agility, balance and mental clarity. But most important is the camaraderie and “new family” gained while enjoying the sport, Harper said.
Harper is a disabled veteran who served in the Navy for two decades and says he understands the impact recreational sports can have on veterans and their families.
Harper recalled two veterans in particular who inspired him to start this program. Over a decade ago, Harper and her daughter met Doug, a veteran who was blind in one eye and missing both legs and one arm, at a racquetball tournament. Nonetheless, a paddle was taped to Doug’s hand and he entered the tournament.
Harper also remembers meeting a veteran of the Marines who was missing a limb. Harper wanted to teach him sports, sparking his calling to create and run the program.
“Once they touch the ball, they’re hooked,” Harper said. “And this is something new.”
Harper said both sports encourage self-confidence, a trait that is often lost among veterans after they retire or return home. Pickleball is a softer sport on the body and allows for more sociability. The social nature of the game allows veterans to forget about other issues for a little while.
“It all goes away when they play,” Harper said. “And in 10 minutes you have a new family.”
USA Pickleball Mid-Atlantic Regional President Sharon MacKenzie and District Ambassador Steven Hoggin are also working with Harper on the clinics.
In early 2020, city council members approved the conversion of two tennis courts in City Park to six pickleball courts. Harper toured the City Park pickleball courts this week, meeting with Mayor Karen Alexander and council member David Post.
Post and his brother Jon, an extraordinary pickleball, both contributed to a donation that covered court costs. Alexander said the use of full courts showed the council’s decision was worth it.
Citing a 2018 USA Today article, MACS credits pickleball for being the fastest growing sport in America, with a stable roster of at least 3 million players across America.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.