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Hastings man competes in wheelchair soccer tourney

Josh Miller poses with family at the U.S. power soccer championships recently. (Submitted photo)

Josh Miller, a 25-year-old Hastings man, is no stranger to a wheelchair. He was born with cerebral palsy and doesn’t have the use of his arms or legs. But that hasn’t stopped him from being an athlete. June 20-23, he competed in the Midwest Power Soccer Association national championship and helped his team claim the second-place trophy in their first year.

Power soccer is a modified version of soccer designed for people who use powered wheelchairs. Teams of four players – three offensive and one goalie – maneuver a 13-inch ball across a basketball court and attempt to get it into the opponent’s goal, combining the skill of each player with the power and speed of his or her chair. The chair has a cage attached around its base that both protects the player’s feet and is used to push the ball.

Miller had competed in adaptive sports with the Dakota County Hawks for seven years when he was in school, but after graduation his attention turned to more career-minded activities. He went to Dakota County Technical College and got a degree in graphic design and got to work designing printed materials for people. He also works once a week at Kwik Kopy in Apple Valley.

But being a part of a team and being competitive was something he missed. So when he saw an advertisement for power soccer on television, he knew right away he wanted to give it a shot. Plus, he was thrilled to see how quickly players maneuvered their chairs.

“I couldn’t believe how people were driving these wheelchairs,” said Cindy Wolf, Miller’s mother.

Players cruise around the court at up to 6.2 miles per hour and execute quick turns and dizzying spins to maneuver and shoot the ball.

After getting in contact with the Minnesota Northern Lights team, it was time to get Miller into a power soccer chair, Wolf said. Miller already had a power chair, but it wasn’t well adapted for soccer and didn’t have the power to keep up with others on the court. Once he was fitted for the new chair, they had to figure out how to attach a head array to control it, since he can’t operate hand controls. Miller has the distinction of being the first person on his team to use a head array.

Once practices started, Miller’s coach decided to make a major change. There were 10 or 11 people on the team, but because only four can be on the court at once, the coach decided to split the players and create a second team out of the newer players, including Miller, Wolf said. The new team was named the Minnesota Shooting Stars.

For the regular season, the Stars’ performance was nothing unexpected for a new, inexperienced team. Before the U.S. tournament, their record was 1-11-1, and the one win they got was because the other team forfeited, Miller said. Meanwhile, the Northern Lights team put up a strong 14-3-0 season. Getting enough games in meant they had to travel. Power soccer is a relatively new sport in the U.S., having come here for the first time in the 1980s. Teams are relatively far apart, and teams have to play 12 games to be eligible for the national tournament. This year, Miller traveled as far as Madison to play.

Then the national tournament came. The first day, the Stars played three games and finished with a 2-0 win and two ties. The next day, they faced the Northern Lights and pulled away with a 2-0 win. Later that day they won again, earning the No. 2 spot in pool play the next day.

The final day, the Stars won their first game, putting them up against the Northern Lights once again to battle for the championship title. The Stars scored twice, but the Northern Lights got four to win it. Still, being able to beat the more experienced team once and place second in the national tournament was exciting.

“It was just the coolest thing,” Wolf said.

Miller himself scored five goals across the tournament and got two assists. He had only scored once during the regular season.

With the season now over, Miller is looking forward to more practice. He can practice some movements in his own garage, but he also goes to the Hastings community center every week to develop his skills. He’s also hoping to be able to take part in the Courage Center soccer camp in the next couple weeks.

For more about power soccer, go to midwestpowersoccer. org.