“It’s an opportunity to be seen,” he said. “If you’re a disabled athlete, sometimes you kind of fly under the radar. And nobody really notices what’s going on. This is an opportunity for us to just be normal.”
The Bears is one of the wheelchair football teams in the USA Wheelchair Football League, which is the first football league in the country for adults with disabilities. Formed in 2020, the League is governed by Move United, a nonprofit that advocates for parasports, and supported by the National Football League and the Bob Woodruff Foundation.
The League’s third and last tournament of the year will be held at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Saturday, Oct. 22, and Sunday, Oct. 23. A total of nine teams are scheduled to compete starting from 8 a.m.
“It’s a great way to show that people with disabilities can get out there and compete in sports and be active just like everyone else,” said Karalyn Stott, the senior program manager of Move United and commissioner of the League.
Sfire coaches one of the 11 competitive teams in the League. Most of them are affiliated with their local NFL teams, which means they have permission to use their name, logos and colors.
“It was a no-brainer that I needed to somehow get involved in it,” he said. “It’s been kind of a childhood dream to be able to wear the Bears’ colors, and it’s not just on a Sunday when I’m cheering for my local team.”
The Bears coach used to be a football player for Harper Community College in Palatine, Illinois. After college, he went on to coach football teams from several Illinois schools, including Trinity International University and Carmel Catholic High School, for more than 20 years.
Unfortunately, an infection in his spine from a back surgery he had in 2014 left him partially paralyzed four years later.
“I wasn’t quite sure what life looked like and what sports looked like,” he said. “Once I got to understand that there were these awesome wheelchair sports available, I was like, ‘Okay, well, that’s not going to stop me from being an athlete and wanting to help others by coaching again.’”
Each game requires seven players from each team. A starting lineup for Sfire would typically include a quarterback, center, two guards and either one running back and two receivers or three receivers and no running back.
The game plays on a field that is 60-yard long and 22-yard wide. Tackling is done by placing a hand above the waist of the player carrying the ball.
The scoring system goes like this: players can score a touchdown for six points plus one point after opportunity from the three-yard line. Additionally, players who pass the ball in from three yards will score one point and those who run will score two points.
The Bears will play against the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers during the tournament on Saturday and Sunday.
“If one play goes our way this time, we’re hoping to come out in the top three,” he said. “That’s a tall order against these guys because they’re all great competitors, but our guys are working hard and we’re ready to roll.”
Sfire added that the NFL affiliation really helped the football team gain credibility. More than 50 athletes showed up at tryouts last June.
“Often adaptive sports are relegated to the sidelines and really not given the dues that it should be given,” Stott said. “Because of this NFL partnership, our athletes really get to feel like they are professional athletes.”
Moving forward, Stott hopes to continue to grow the league.
“Our goal is to be in every NFL market and then continue beyond that so that every person regardless of ability has the opportunity to play football in their home community,” she said.