Jonathan Greeson is a 29 year old goalie with Spinal Muscular Atrophy or SMA. As a child, he fell in love with hockey. It became a sport that despite his disability, he could still play in backyard. Jonathan is the founder of the North Carolina Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association (NCEWHA) and the Carolina Fury PowerHockey™ Team. In March 2009, Jonathan and the Carolina Fury were honored by the Carolina Hurricanes as they were given the privilege of sounding the Hurricane Warning Siren. Jonathan was also named Time Warner Cable’s Skater of the Game.
Carolina Fury is one of many organizations supported by the Canes’ Kids ‘N Community Foundation, but the team needs fan support as well…
KP Kelly: What is the NCEWHA? Carolina Fury?
Jonathan Greeson: The North Carolina Electric Wheelchair Hockey Association (NCEWHA) was created with the mission of providing a quality hockey program for those who use an electric wheelchair in daily life. Initially, the goal was to create a league in NC with a minimum of 4 teams, but it’s really hard to find volunteers to start and manage teams in different areas. The Carolina Fury is the first team of the NCEWHA and it has players from all over NC. The Fury is also the traveling team which represents the NCEWHA at tournaments. The NCEWHA is one of the founding organizations in the North American Powerhockey Association (NAPHA), which is the governing body of Powerhockey in the US and Canada.
KP:How did last season end for Carolina Fury?
JG: Last year we tried some new things to better prepare us for tournament play. We had tougher competition in our exhibition games, including a double-header, and we tried different tweaks to our system all year. Our exhibition year ended 4 wins and 3 losses, which was disappointing, but we still felt confident going to Philadelphia for the USA Championship. I almost missed the tournament with gall bladder problems, but the surgeon put a drainage tube in me and told me I could tape it up and play…which I did, I mean I am a hockey player. (Can you see why I like Jonathan?!) Overall, our team did well. We’re still not a top tier team, but we are getting closer with each event. We finished 3rd and won our final game. I hope the momentum from that will carry over into this season.
KP: You are hosting open tryouts on January 14th? What skill level is expected?
JG: Yes, we are looking to add to our roster this year for the upcoming tournament in August. I don’t look at skill level as much as I do characteristics. I have never believed people were born with the skills to play wheelchair hockey, they bring the chair and we teach the skills. Players must have a maturity level that allows them to accept failure and try again. Hockey is extremely hard and even people in the NHL make mistakes. The players also need an overall positive attitude because a negative attitude is like a disease that spreads on a team. The player needs to have the cognitive ability to listen to instructions and to communicate with teammates. The player also has to have the desire to become the best he/she can be. We only practice twice a month, so they will need to practice the individual skills at home. Finally, they need family support. Families have to bring the player to events and will be caregivers when we travel. Without a support system at home, it would be impossible for the player to handle the commitment required to play for the Carolina Fury.
KP: How many games are played during the season?
JG: Normally, we play 6 exhibition games from January to June. Then we travel to a tournament in August if one is being held that year. This year we will only have 4 games as we are getting a late start due to my illness this fall.
KP: Where are the games held?
JG: Most of our games and practices are held at Charles B. Aycock High School in Pikeville. Sometimes we go into different areas if our home gym isn’t available or to try and generate more interest. We will always announce the facility at least 2 weeks in advance of an event. CB Aycock has been very supportive of us and charges us very little to rent the gym.
KP: Do games follow the rules and regulations of the NHL?
JG: We follow the NAPHA rulebook, which basically uses ice hockey rules with adaptations for playing in wheelchairs. It is as close to NHL rules as possible.
KP: What does Carolina Fury mean to the players?
JG: The Fury gives its members a chance at something they never thought was possible…to be a part of a team. It also gives them a chance to see that anything is possible even though they have a disability. As strange as it sounds, playing wheelchair hockey is the only time I don’t feel like I am in a wheelchair. It’s great to get “lost in the game” and actually feel like you’re skating. Off the court, older players show the young players that they can go to college and have the same achievements as an able-bodied person. The young players also give the older players a purpose in that we want to see them succeed on and off the court.
As strange as it sounds, playing wheelchair hockey is the only time I don’t feel like I am in a wheelchair.
KP: How have the Carolina Hurricanes impacted Fury and the players?
JG: The Hurricanes have been great since I started this program. I did my internship with them in college and they taught me everything I know about managing a nonprofit. They have put footage on the videoboard promoting our team and their staff plays against us every year. Last year they gave us a grant to cover gym rental costs. In 2009 they even let us play our tournament games in the RBC Center.
We probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the Hurricanes.
KP: How can people support the team?
JG: Currently we are in desperate need of donations. Because I was sick throughout the fall, I was unable to solicit new sponsorships for the year. We have lost some sponsors with the tough economic situation, so I believe we need to go back to how we were started…private
donations from people. I know we are still going through tough times, but if they could just spare $25 it would go such a long way. I don’t get paid to manage the team. I just love the sport and want to play. If 1000 people donated $25, it would fund our program for at least 2 years!
Thank you Jonathan for all your hard work and providing such an important team. I will be checking in with Carolina Fury throughout the season, in the meantime, please consider making a contribution to the team at http://ncpowerhockey.com/Donations.html. You should also follow Fury on Facebook!