Wheelchair softball coming to Mississippi


By Susan Christensen
Special to the Advocate

Wheelchair softball will join Methodist Rehabilitation Center’s growing list of adaptive sports, thanks to a $76,121 grant from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

The gift will pay for the purchase of equipment, and the sport will be debuted at a summer instructional clinic in Jackson. The grant also will fund expansion of wheelchair fencing and handcycling, two popular programs that currently serve only the Jackson area. Clinics and events will bring the two existing sports to the Gulf Coast, Northeast Mississippi, the Delta and central Mississippi.

“We found out about the grant in December, and I can’t think of a better Christmas present,” said Ginny Boydston, therapeutic recreation director at Methodist Rehab in Jackson. “It’s always exciting to introduce something new to the state, and softball is a game that a lot of people want to play.”

Neal Pettigrew of Byram is one who can’t wait to get back in the game. “That is what I’ve been wanting to play more than anything,” said the 44-year-old, who was paralyzed in a 1996 car accident. “I pitched for many years, and I’ve mentored my son. Baseball is one of my favorite sports.”

The only one of its kind in Mississippi, Methodist Rehab’s therapeutic recreation program has helped thousands of people with disabilities return to an active lifestyle through a variety of adaptive sports. Over the years, participants have been able to sample tennis, basketball, quad rugby, sled hockey, water and snow skiing, power soccer, scuba diving, road racing, hunting, fishing and even dance. 

“These opportunities promote health and independence, and the expansion made possible with this grant is wonderful news for Mississippians who have disabilities,” said Chris Blount, director of the Wilson Research Foundation at Methodist Rehab, who led the grant proposal effort.  

Many of Methodist Rehab’s adaptive sports programs are supported by grants, and Boydston said the Neilsen Foundation has been an especially generous benefactor. “I’m very honored that they believe in us,” she said.

The foundation awards grants to charities benefiting spinal cord injury research and rehabilitation. It was established in 2003 by Ameristar Casino founder Craig H. Neilsen, who was paralyzed in a 1985 car accident and died in 2006.

“The Craig H. Neilsen Foundation is proud to support Methodist Rehabilitation Center,” said Beth Goldsmith, executive director. “As Chairman of Ameristar Casinos and the Neilsen Foundation, Craig Neilsen’s son, Ray, has continued his father’s generous support for the innovative programs and excellent patient care offered to those associated with MRC. This partnership has made an important difference in the lives of the MRC patients.”

Ameristar Vicksburg employees and the Neilsen Foundation helped Methodist Rehab purchase its original fencing and handcycling equipment in 2005. And Boydston said she’ll be relying on athletes from both sports to help with the upcoming clinics. “I’m looking forward to them taking a leadership role,” she said. “Their hands-on experience will be an extra benefit to the people learning the sports.”

To learn more about Methodist Rehab’s adaptive sports and recreation program, call Boydston at 601-364-3566.