Youth sports are a fun and formative part of countless kids’ lives, and that should be true for children at every ability level. Several adaptive sports programs for kids near Philadelphia provide opportunities for young people with disabilities, making sure that those with special needs have the same access as everyone else.
The benefits of adaptive sports programs can be especially empowering, offering a community of other children with similar interests, and facing similar challenges. Many programs meet year-round, admitting athletes regardless of the season. Read on for a list of area programs that eliminate limitations, and truly level the playing field.
Adaptive Sports Programs Near Philadelphia for Kids
The Camden County NJ Miracle League gives anybody aged 5 or older with a medically diagnosed disability the chance to participate in America’s favorite pastime. Athletes play ball at Cherry Hill’s Boundless Field, where every kid gets a hit, safely rounds each base, and is never called out. The accessible field is barrier-free, featuring a cushioned, synthetic surface that accommodates wheelchairs and walking assistance devices while helping to avoid injury. Fun Fact – CCNJML is one of 270 Miracle Leagues in five different countries. The spring season runs April-June, and the fall season runs September-October. Saturday games last about an hour.
A Camden County NJ Miracle League athlete at-bat. Photo courtesy of CCNJML.
Katie’s Komets are always looking for new players to add to their wheelchair basketball rosters. The coed teams serve kids from elementary through high school, and children don’t even necessarily need to have a wheelchair. Any child with a long-term physical limitation that prevents them from playing on a regular team can join, as long as they’re able to operate a manual wheelchair. As a member of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association, athletes have competed and placed in the top ten in national competitions. Out-of-state games and tournaments are commonplace, and a big regional tournament held in Philly each year in January is a big draw. Katie’s Komets usually practice on Saturdays from 10am to 1pm at Carousel House, but the facility is currently closed for renovations. Practices and games are held at various locations until the team finds a permanent home, but they often practice at RiverWinds Community Center in West Deptford, NJ.
The Komets in action on the court. Photo courtesy of Katie's Komets.
iCan Shine –– PA, NJ, and DE locations
iCan Shine is a charity that runs programs in 35 states, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, to help disabled kids learn how to ride bikes. The group hosts five-day camps every summer and has successfully taught over 20,000 people with disabilities how to ride a conventional two-wheel bicycle. In just five 75 minute sessions, roughly 80% of participants can ride independently for at least 75 feet without help, but the social and emotional benefits extend a far greater distance.
The South Jersey Storm is a competitive cheer club with a special needs division called the Twisters. Coaches from the U.S. All-Star Federation for Cheer and Dance guide the team through skills and routines to be performed at approximately five different local competitions. Twisters practice once or twice a week from September through April. The club prides itself on a family-like atmosphere.
Tri-State Cheer in Delaware County has a team of special needs athletes for kids of all ages that practices on Fridays. Contact them for additional details.
This Haverford-based dance studio offers classes for kids ages ten and up that explore movement, promote body awareness, and teach fundamentals across various disciplines, including ballet and other dance styles. Designed especially for children with cognitive or developmental disabilities, courses employ a professional dance therapist to create a safe space, where participants can grow in their abilities and love for dance. Classes are Tuesdays from 515pm to 615pm for kids ages 10 and up.
Pegasus holds private and group lessons six days a week for riders with disabilities. Programs run all year, with four separate sessions annually. Instruction is kept to a maximum of four participants and two teachers. On Monday nights, children on the autism spectrum can participate in activities designed especially for them, through PEACE, or Pegasus Equine Autism Challenge and Enrichment. PEACE levels I and II focus on education and horsemanship skills, while level III is for more advanced equestrians ready for competitive shows.
Equine activities put a smile on everyone's face at Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Academy. Photo courtesy of Pegasus Therapeutic Riding Academy
The benefits of equine therapy are well-known, and the Rein Dancer riding center in New Egypt has one mission–to help horses heal people. Housed at the Laurita Equestrian Center, instructors offer recreational and therapeutic lessons, as well as equine-assisted activities and therapies.
Power hockey is basically floor hockey for power wheelchair users, and the Philadelphia Flyers PowerPlay is a local coed team that’s ready to welcome new athletes. They meet at locations throughout the Philly metro region, including the YMCA’s in Ambler and Havertown, Neumann University, and George D’Amico Hockey Rink in Wildwood, New Jersey. Games run September through June on alternating Saturdays. The squad is an official affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Head out to the Poconos for this awesome PCAS program, where children with disabilities ages 5 and up can learn to ski, or advance their skills at a week-long camp. Kids and counselors are lodged at a nearby hotel, with additional time built into the week for homework, a movie night, and an evening at Aquatopia, Camelback Resort’s indoor water park. This camp has produced two Paralympians and is headed up by Tyler Carter, a former participant, and Paralympic skier. This year's camp is from February 14-18, 2022.
For the uninitiated, sled hockey is an adaptive version of the sport played on specially engineered sleds with two blades on the bottom. Players simultaneously use two double-edged sticks–one end has a pick and the other has a blade. The pick end is used to propel the body forward, and the blade end plays the puck. The game moves just as fast and is just as exciting as regular ice hockey, offering a fun athletic activity for athletes with disabilities. Two clubs are based in South Jersey, and one is headquartered in Northeast Philadelphia.
After taking some shots on the ice, Hammerheads sled hockey team members pose for a group shot. Photo courtesy of Hammerheads Sled Hockey.
The Hammerheads encourage all kids with physical disabilities ages 5-18 to come out for the team. They're based out of the Northeast Skate Zone.
This club practices at the Virtua Flyers Skate Zone on Thursdays from 430pm to 530pm. Visit their website or Facebook Page for more details.
Kids from 5-18 with a variety of physical challenges are welcome to join the team. Contact the club for additional info.
What better way for young athletes to set some goals than to score some goals! In conjunction with clubs from Eastern Pennsylvania Youth Soccer, the TOPSoccer teams cater to children with intellectual and physical disabilities through team placement and community-based training. This popular volunteer program brings the joy of the world’s most popular sport to kids who might not have the chance via traditional avenues. Teams meet throughout the year.
Special Olympics PA –– Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Delaware counties
The Special Olympics has chapters in the city and surrounding counties, providing a wide range of training and competitive sports programs for kids with intellectual disabilities, ages 8 and older. Seasonal programs run year-round and include basketball, baseball, volleyball, bocce, swimming, soccer, gymnastics, tennis, and more. For little ones ages 2-7, there’s the Young Athletes Program, which uses games, songs, and other play activities to help children develop fine motor skills, as well as cognitive and social skills. Offerings vary throughout Philly, Montgomery County, Bucks County, Delaware County, and Chester County. Check your local chapter’s website for more details.
Kids participate in floor hockey. Photo courtesy of Special Olympics Pennsylvania.
The PCAS swimming team is called the Rammies, and they practice in the Olympic-sized pool at West Chester University. From February to April, kids with disabilities can work on their backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, and more with the help of a WCU Kinesiology professor specializing in physical activities for people with disabilities. There’s a developmental track for emerging skills, and a competitive track for those ready to take the pool by storm. Past participants have also vied for medals at the Junior Nationals competitions. The season runs from February through April.
PCAS swimmers practice at West Chester University. Photo courtesy of Joan Wheeler for PCAS.
Little ones with special needs ages 2 and over can take 30-minute lessons at the Mary Campbell Center in Wilmington to learn swimming skills and water acclimation. The student-teacher ratio is kept small to make sure everyone is comfortable. Classes are offered for six weeks in the fall and spring.
Track and Field
The Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports runs a slate of programming for adults and children, including its youth track and field team. Athletes from 7-22 can join the squad, which practices in West Chester and attends regional competitions. Certified track coaches provide instruction for running events, as well as field events like shot put, discus and javelin. While the team meets together in the spring and summer, its members perform warm-up activities year-round to keep in shape during the off-season. Team PCAS has taken first-place honors in its division at Adaptive Sport USA’s Junior National Championships in past years.
PCAS athletes take to the track. Photo courtesy of Joan Wheeler for PCAS.