July 28th was a gorgeous evening at Allianz Field; it was hot and sunny, without the normal Minnesota humidity that clings to you. The light summer day made the conditions perfect in the stadium, and the Allina Health Courage Kenny Power Soccer team was all set for their private tour of the facility. What the players didn’t know was that they were about to be signed as official Minnesota United athletes.
The Courage Kenny Power Soccer team is made up of a group of athletes who compete in the Founders League in the United States Power Soccer Association conference. Power Soccer is a sport designed specifically for power wheelchair users. The players who compete in this sport have disabilities such as quadriplegia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, and others that lead to the use of wheelchairs.
The sport is played on a regulation basketball court, with two teams of four players. The game is very challenging, with each player required to attack, defend, and spin-kick a 13-inch ball on target – no easy feat. Courage Kenny is a very talented team, and as such were invited for a private tour of Allianz Field, at least that’s what they thought.
The team, along with family and friends, showed up to Allianz field around 6:00 p.m., and the tour began. MNUFC staff was buzzing with excitement, knowing that in about 30 minutes the tour would lead to the locker room, where the players would see their own jerseys hanging in the lockers, a sign of their future with Minnesota United. Gasps of joy escaped from the group as they noticed their names stitched into the black and blue fabric.
Courage Kenny Assistant Coach Brian Monson had a lot to say about the team and the tour, but mentioned how special it was to be in that locker room. “The locker room was probably the coolest part,” said Monson. “Seeing the athletes have their jerseys up in the lockers and being able to see the space that the players have … To be able to be brought into there and be a part of it, really made us feel like we are part of the team.”
As everybody was in the locker room, MNUFC Sporting Director Manny Lagos and MNUFC staff were setting up the BMW Field Club for the signing ceremony. After some quick speeches, each player signed the official paper to become MNUFC athletes and took a picture with Lagos and MNUFC defender Callum Montgomery. Montgomery welcomed each player to the team, and applause erupted for each new Loons teammate.
Power soccer player Tejosh Rana was overjoyed with the partnership. “I’m pretty speechless at the moment,” said Rana. “This has been years in the making, and I'm glad that we came together as a team and were able to get this partnership and signing to happen. I really look forward to next season for the new design and probably new recruits as well. I definitely see this team now heading to a brighter future I’d say.”
Conversations and laughter filled the BMW Field Club as the new Minnesota United team tried on their jerseys and assembled for a picture in front of the pitch. The team exited through the players’ tunnel and headed past the taconite for their first picture together as Loons. That moment felt like a christening somehow. The same route that MNUFC players take every home game became their official solidifier; new Loons had joined the flock.
The excitement in the room was palpable, and it extended to players and parents alike. “This was such a great event. We are so thankful to you guys and Minnesota United for hosting us, and it’s fantastic,” said Scott Bardell, father of player Deandra Bardell. “My daughter is just beyond the moon. She’s obviously elated.”
Scott Bardell voiced how much power soccer means to his family.“We’re starting over again. Now Dee’s back into it after college,” said Bardell. “She loves it, she loves being a mentor to other players and she’s had a great time. That’s the most important thing to me.”
Head Coach Katie Kensey was clearly very proud of her team. “My favorite aspect of power soccer is the family atmosphere, and watching our team grow together,” said Kensey. “Just like able-bodied soccer, power soccer requires chemistry within your team, so watching your team go to the next level … we went to the national competition this year and got to see that chemistry continue to develop.”
Kensey spoke to the team's desire to continue competing. “I’m looking forward to continuing to compete at tournaments,” said Kensey. “Last year we were limited to only a spring season, so we will be competing in more tournaments [this season]. Very, very excited to be competing as the Loons; that’s amazing, and we're looking forward to a successful partnership with the Loons.”
The former Courage Kenny, now Minnesota United, Power Soccer team placed fourth in last year's Founder’s Conference tournament. Everyone involved with the team has high hopes for their shot at winning the whole thing this year.
Apart from team success, MNUFC Power Soccer aims to build upon the great environment they’ve created on and off the court. “We’ve really seen some of the athletes blossom socially and come out of their shell,” said Brian Monson. “It's great that they have the opportunity to do that and make those relationships and friendships with people.”
Whether it’s the spirit of competition, or the relationships they’ve built, power soccer has changed these athletes' lives. Minnesota United hopes to help foster that environment of growth as the team moves forward.