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Cover Story

Paralympic soccer club at Morgan's Wonderland opens new doors

Photo: Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Steven Gilmore

Jada Cano and Makayla Adams practice power soccer.

Photo: , License: N/A

Makayla beams at power soccer practice.

Jada's family moved to San Antonio about four years ago from the Rio Grande Valley. Her father John is originally from Pharr, her mother Maritza hails from Edinburg, and Jada was born in McAllen. When she was 2 years old her parents noticed that she was walking with an awkward gate and after some lab work she was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. SMA is a disease characterized by missing protein in the spinal cord and there is currently no cure.

"It was very devastating for us as parents with her being our only child," recounts Maritza. "Every day is a challenge for her especially because her main dream is to walk. She asks every day and every night when God's going to give her that ability to walk and be like everyone else. So it's hard for us as parents to see her going through this challenge that God has given to her."

Maritza beams when talking about her daughter, describing her as funny, smart, outgoing, and full of hugs. In addition to soccer, Jada has participated in t-ball and swimming and looks forward to trying basketball and cheerleading. On the power soccer court she is fast, determined, and displays a natural knack for passing and handling the ball.

"Jada's a special girl, as with Makayla and Mariah," says Coach Smith who previously coached Jada in t-ball. "They're what a coach dreams about: An athlete that actually enjoys what they're doing and doesn't give up. She has a great smile, and she plays with a lot of effort and with a lot of passion."

Passion is again on display a week later at Morgan's Wonderland when Coach Willie Jackson holds court for wheelchair soccer, a unique hybrid of basketball, handball, and the beautiful game. The strains of Cyndi Lauper are replaced by bouncing balls, metal wheelchairs clashing, and the occasional grunt. Practice consists of drills centered on developing various skills that are crucial to the game concluding with an increasingly intense scrimmage that places emphasis on using the wheelchairs to set basketball-like picks to free up scorers.

"It's a big difference because there's a lot of different type of strategies for the power soccer," says Coach Jackson explaining the difference between the two sports. "Power soccer is four-on-four with three out on the floor and one goalie and they do more passing than they do dribbling the ball because of the power chair. With the wheelchair soccer it's six-on-six with them being able to use their hands. There's a lot more speed involved, a lot more picking with the chair, and a lot more shots at the goal. So we practice more on picking for each other and getting the more talented shooters with the ball to try to take the shots at the goal."

Holding his own on the hardwood against the adults is 9-year-old Brett McClendon, a 4th grader at Virginia A. Myers Elementary. As his mother Valerie looks on, Brett almost effortlessly dribbles the ball down the court and is easily the most enthusiastic player on the floor. The young athlete speeds along the wing handling and delivering passes to his teammates before taking a turn inside the net. As he waits for the opposition to make it back to his baseline, Brett cuts loose with a kinetic shimmy, his hands and arms moving in rhythm before he blocks shot upon shot.

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