2019 Hemet Valley Wheelchair Soccer Tournament
■ By Rusty Strait / Senior Reporter
It was like a day at the fair. No matter the rain, the celebration took place inside a skating rink with a separate section where the kids could play games and enjoy childhood pleasures. The arena was filled with the excitement of a county fair with ribbons and medals, politicians and military figures and more than 250 spectators.
What was this you may ask? It was the 2019 Hemet Valley Wheelchair Soccer Tournament, officially sanctioned by the U.S. Power Soccer Association.
When the front doors opened at 8 a.m. on Mar. 2, Capt. Glenn Brock of the Hemet Police Department was on guard with several, young Police Explorers to secure the premises. From the beginning of the opening ceremonies, former San Jacinto Mayor Scott Miller emceed the event as though he may have recently stepped out of a top-rated TV reality series. The Tahquitz High School Marine Corps ROTC Color Guard, under the leadership of Maj. Williams, led off with a moving display of patriotism, which reminded us why this country is still a beacon of light for freedom. Scott Miller made a statement that caught the importance of our military when he said, “Without the military and their sacrifices, there would be no United States of America.”
Four wheelchair teams participated; a combination of children and adults. Hemet Veteran Warriors was the only real veterans’ team to participate. Hemet Post 253 of the American Legion was well represented among the spectators, as was the City of Hemet in the presence of City Councilmembers Bonnie Wright and Russ Brown.
From the beginning it was apparent that the kids’ team, the Los Angeles Avengers, were on their way to winning the tournament when they took the first game 8 to 0 and went on to have the highest total score. They weren’t veterans but they had championship moves.
A community social occasion
However, this was more of a social occasion or “get to know one another day” than it was a contest. Folks mingled and conversed as though it were a large family reunion. There was plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages. Everyone was there from grand-babies to grandparents.
This Wheelchair Soccer Tournament was the creation of Cloverlane Foundation CEO Gerry Chase who, although not a Hemet resident, has dedicated himself and his foundation to bringing us all together as one harmonious family and specifically investing his time and funds into helping our veterans.
The Wheelchair Teams:
• Hemet Veterans Warriors
• Los Angeles Avengers
• Glendale Rough Riders
• SoCal Vaqueros
• Cloverlane Foundation
• Veterans Mobility Projects
• Hemet Valley Medical Center
• The American Legion Post 253
• Empire Mobility
• Diesel Tech
• BJ Sporting Goods
• VIP Autos
A special thanks is given to Wheelhouse owner Jesse Vivanco for providing the venue for this event.
Why this, why now?
In a conversation with Cloverlane Foundation’s Gerry Chase, he expressed his concerns as to why he wanted this event to happen in Hemet. “My idea was to show disabled veterans that they aren’t just something from the past and can have a relationship with their comrades and the community. They have a purpose and that each fellow is committed to compare what he was doing with the guys next to him, the same way they did when they were in the service of their country.”
“Another reason is in trying to bring together this community. That is why I advertised in the two English language papers and the two Hispanic papers in the area. This is a wonderful community and we must stick together to survive. Wars and their aftermath often tear a community and nation apart. Veterans are a vital part of this valley and, if they feel they can be a part of local activities, we may be able to find those who are depressed and hiding to join their comrades and not feel alone or unimportant.”
“I know after I came back from the Korean conflict, I felt discarded and unwanted. The Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act [now called Servicemembers Civil Relief Act] did nothing for me. My previous job was gone. I couldn’t find work. I went back to college to obtain my master’s degree. However, I had difficulty trying to study. I was sick and nobody cared. I suffered from PTSD. I felt there was nothing for me. During the war I did things I didn’t want to do. If I didn’t do as told, I would have been shot. I had no choice and I was not alone. That’s the way it works in war,” said Chase.
He continued by saying, “Look at this event today. Everybody is together and happy. We’re all wearing our red hats and red shirts. Everybody is hugging everybody like family. We brought face painting for the children and suddenly all of the adult women joined with them in the activity; women who had never engaged in such an activity and they were having fun. This event has been more than wheelchair soccer. It wasn’t a fundraiser, nor was it intended to raise money. I funded the event myself because I wanted it to be something that brought the community together like family, and that’s exactly what happened. It demonstrates that life can be fun when we enjoy it collectively in service to one another.”
I doubt anyone who attended this coming together of community will disagree with Mr. Chase. Just sayin’
Rusty Strait is a senior reporter with the Valley Chronicle and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org