BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - More than 200 of the finest wheelchair athletes in the world are on the coast competing in the 2015 Wheelchair Softball World Series. The tournament opened Thursday at the Coliseum Convention Center in Biloxi.
The players are skilled and the competition is intense. Seventeen teams from around the world are participating in this wheelchair world series.
And they are serious softball players.
"We come out for recreation, we started this for recreation. But this is competition," said Chis Etheridge, a coach for the local Deep South Hurricanes. "A lot of these guys, a lot of these guys played college sports before they got hurt. At least played high school sports. We're competitive. We want you to know, if you're going to come out and watch the games, be ready for a game! You know, this isn't powder puff."
Winning still means relying on power hitters and fine-tuned pitchers. But playing from a wheelchair does bring unique challenges.
"Swinging the bat, you don't have as much core. You can't use your hips as much. So there's a lot of arm work. It makes it a little more challenging. And the ball is a little bit bigger. No glove. It's softball in its purest form," said Antonio Wright.
"Stay young! Play for 35 or 40 years, and sadly, you'll look like me," joked Larry Lubiak from Chicago.
You can't hide his enthusiasm. This Chicago native savors the competition, but truly appreciates the camaraderie
"This is a great bunch of people. It's a national family of athletes with disabilities. It's competitive. It's about winning. But when we're off the field, like with these gentlemen. We're buds. Okay? I hate you on the field, I love you off the field brother," he said.
The team from Japan gets the award for traveling the farthest. Overseas or around the corner, the message here is the same.
"To see that people with wheelchairs, people with disabilities can have fun. And they can be competitive. Cause we are very competitive, if you see the game," said Cindy Singletary, with the group MACE, Metro Area Community Empowerment.
The games continue through Saturday at the parking lot of the Coliseum Convention Center in Biloxi. It's open to the public and admission is free.