MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

April 21, 2013

Wounded Warriors to take on VA staffers in softball game

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— “Extreme perseverance and attitude” will be on display when the national Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team takes on Veterans Affairs staffers and Muskogee police and firefighters in a doubleheader extravaganza.

The wounded warriors’ softball team is made up of “young, competitive, athletic veterans and active-duty soldiers” who lost limbs while serving in the military after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The team represents “some of our nation’s bravest and most determined heroes, soldiers and veterans.”

The team’s “mission is to raise awareness, through exhibition and celebrity softball games, of the sacrifices and resilience of our military, and highlight their ability to rise above any challenge.” Its “goal is to show other amputees and the general population that these athletes through extensive rehabilitation and training are able to express their desires and perform the sport they loved.”

Carson Lynch, the city’s recreation director, described what is being dubbed an American Heroes Classic Event as an event that will inspire people of all ages. In addition to the two softball games scheduled the afternoon of May 4, the team’s public itinerary includes several opportunities for supporters to welcome team members, take photographs and get autographs.

“I am pumped about this — it’s going to be a big deal,” Lynch said, noting the team’s trip to Muskogee and the two exhibition softball games had been in the works for about five months. “I don’t get pumped about much other than the Special Olympics, but I am really pumped about this deal.”

Nita McClellan, public affairs officer for the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center, said talks about the visit began when the coach and two of the team’s players attended an annual meeting of the VA Regional Office in Muskogee. While visiting patients at the medical center, the coach challenged staffers to a game.

“It took us by surprise,” McClellan said about the challenge. “These guys are phenomenal, and I am looking forward to seeing them play. We are not going to win, but that’s OK.”

Diane Briskey, management and program manager at the VA Regional Office in Muskogee, said David VanSleet, the team’s coach, and two players were invited to town just more than a year ago as motivational speakers. The players, Briskey said, shared stories about how they lost their limbs. VanSleet spoke about the softball team and its beginnings.

“These guys touched the lives of everyone they talked to while they were there,” Briskey said, who singled out a Marine and VA employee who lost a leg after he was struck by a car while riding a motorcycle. “But I’m not sure if they didn’t help this Marine more than anyone because they were able to tell him from personal experience what he could expect, make recommendations on prosthetics, share the ‘normal’ feelings of what he was going through.”

The wounded warriors’ softball team is scheduled to arrive May 3 in Muskogee. Organizers and sponsors have planned a reception for the team from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. that day at Honor Heights Park. Members of the American Legion Auxiliary will provide submarine sandwiches, and the medical center will provide soft drinks. Volunteers from the medical center and VA Regional Office will bring chips, finger foods and desserts.

Dist. 13 Rep. Jerry McPeak will preside over the opening ceremony and the break between the two softball games scheduled May 4. Lynch said the first game, scheduled at 1 p.m. that day, will pit the wounded warriors against VA staffers. The second game features the wounded warriors and Muskogee firefighters and police officers.

The Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team will be available for pictures and autographs following the games at Love-Hatbox Sports Complex. A second opportunity for autographs is planned at 6:30 p.m. May 4 when the team eats dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings.

McClellan said Lynch is putting together other activities scheduled that day to attract more people to the sports venue and the wounded warriors’ exhibition softball games.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

If you go



WHAT: Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team exhibition games.

WHEN: From 1 to 5:30 p.m. May 4.

WHERE: Love-Hatbox Sports Complex.