Sports & Team Games
Hockey - Wheelchair
The Wheelchair Hockey League (WCHL) was created for the enjoyment of participating in hockey. The purpose of the league is to provide an appropriate means for persons in wheelchairs to play hockey, and have the chance to engage in the competition and excitement of sport. The WCHL includes players in manual and electric wheelchairs. Players have disabilities such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, spinal cord injury, and stroke. The league was developed and is run and organized by the players with the assistance of volunteers. A board of directors, consisting of players and one volunteer, makes league decisions.
Benefits of playing in the WCHL are both physical and psychological. David Simpson, volunteer league physician and Muscular Dystrophy Association clinic director in Farmington Hills, MI, says he has seen positive health benefits in participants and feels hockey has helped motivate some players to keep healthy. When players get sick or hurt, they often ask Simpson when they will be able to compete again. “We use that. It’s a positive motivator. It gets them well, and keeps them fighting. They’re staying physically active,” says Simpson. “They’re out there exercising. You can see the positive energy.” Even though players are serious about what they are doing, they have lots of fun. League member Mike Belanger feels, “the closeness comes when we’re off the floor, and the game is just a bonus.” League events have become an unofficial support group for players’ parents. Information and empathy flow, and parents discuss the challenges raised by their children’s disabilities.
The WCHL follows the guidelines of the United States Electric Wheelchair Association (USEWHA) for making player classifications. The classification system is based on strength. It does not take into account a player’s knowledge in playing the game.
- Level 1 Players: A player who has the upper body strength to lift the stick and hit the ball a good distance and with speed. These players have the ability to shoot and pass the ball quickly with velocity. These players can switch the ball from forehand to backhand allowing good ability to control and maneuver the ball through or around other players. They can reach in front, across, or behind the wheelchair with a stick easily to bring the ball into control or take it away from another player.
- Level 2 Players: This level ranges from (a) players who may be able to lift the stick and hit the ball with fair distance and speed, but lack the power and reaching ability as seen in a level 1, to (b) players who rely on the momentum of the wheelchair to shoot and pass the ball, and may be unable to lift and swing the stick. These players generally keep the stick on one side of their chair or hold the stick between their legs. They may or may not have the stick attached to their hand, arm, or leg. Level 2 players lack the ability to easily reach with their stick to more than one side of their chair. These players are able to control the ball, but their limited ability to reach restricts their capability to maneuver with the ball around other players. A level 2 player will commonly not have the strength to easily use his/her backhand to shoot, control the ball, or pass the ball with force.
- Level 3 Players: Players who either tape the stick to the wheelchair, or may hold the stick between their legs. These players rely almost entirely on the momentum of the wheelchair to shoot, pass, and control the ball. They are very limited in physical ability to maneuver with the ball around other players, and are unable to reach with their stick.
A team may only play two level 1 ranked players on the floor at the same time. Level 1 or 2 ranked players can be considered a level 3, only if they tape their stick to their chair. A level 3 ranked player must be on the floor at all times, playing a forward or defensive position. Goaltenders cannot be a level 1.
- A total of five players (including the goaltender) are required on the floor to play a game.
- Goaltenders cannot use a manual wheelchair.
- The game will begin with a face-off at the center face-off circle. The referee will place the ball at the center of the circle and blow the whistle to start play.
- A goal is scored when the ball completely crosses the goal line. A goal will not be allowed if the ball was kicked by an offensive player and as a result entered the goal either directly or after deflecting off any player including the goaltender.
- Each game will consist of three fifteen-minute periods. Each period will be played on a non-stop basis, except when a goal is scored. Between each period there will be a two-minute break.
The playing area will be the surface of a gymnasium, approximately the size of a basketball court. The nets used for goals should measure approximately six feet wide by three feet high by one and one half feet deep. The goal crease should measure approximately seven feet wide and extend four feet outward from the goal line.
On the playing surface there will be five face-off areas, one in the center of the court and one on each side of both nets positioned approximately halfway between the nets and centerline.
All sticks must be made of a plastic handle, shaft, and blade. A dowel may be inserted through the blade of the stick for players with limited ability to stickhandle. The dowel cannot be made of metal, cannot exceed more than three inches in length on either side of the blade, and cannot exceed one half inch in diameter.
No modifications can be made to a wheelchair that will prohibit the ball from traveling underneath the chair. No stick blade may be placed between the front and rear tires, obstructing passage of the ball through that area.
A hollow plastic ball, two inches in diameter, with holes in it, will be used as the official game ball. Participants are free to wear protective gear such as eyewear, helmet, knee or arm pads.
Leagues recognized by the USEWHA are currently located in Minnesota, Michigan, Canada, and Europe. For information on participating or starting a league, or further details about the WCHL, contact Tom Martin, Vice President, WCHL.
For More Information
Canadian Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association (CEWHA)
Power Blacks New Zealand Wheelchair Hockey
United State Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association (USEWHA)
Wheelchair Sports, the portal to sites about wheelchair sports
Wood, Tara. (2000). They Shoot, They Score. Quest, 7(5), 23-27.
The information provided here is offered as a service only. The National Center on Physical Activity and Disability, University of Illinois at Chicago, the National Center on Accessibility, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago do not formally recommend or endorse the equipment listed. As with any products or services, consumers should investigate and determine on their own which equipment best fits their needs and budget.