Feb 25, 2016 | By Alec

Over the past several decades, sports have really opened up to the disabled. Whatever your handicap is, it’s becoming increasingly easier to find kindred spirits, sports leagues and not let your disability prevent you from being active and having fun. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for all sports, and not due to snobbishness. The nature of the game and the popularity sometimes simply prevent handicapped players. Until recently, this was also the case for lacrosse, but thanks to 3D printing, a children’s Challenger league has now been set up Long Island, NY – the heart of lacrosse country.

This Challenger Lacrosse league has been made possible by Challenger Athletics, which was founded back in 2013 by Thomas DeSimone (now a high school senior) and Raymond Samson. Samson’s son Patrick has Down Syndrome, and they wanted him to enjoy one of the most popular sports in Long Island as well. DeSimone goes to Chaminade High School in Mineola, New York. It’s located right in the middle of Long Island lacrosse country - the most popular sports in the region – and numerous top players come from the area. Challenger Athletics was founded to open up that game to children with Down Syndrome and other disabilities as well, and they have been quite successful. 50 children participated in their 2013 league with the help of 75 volunteers, and that number has been growing steadily each year.

Photos: challengerlax.com.

But as that league grew, they realized that disabled children struggle with at least one aspect of lacrosse: the high level of hand-eye coordination and the small stick that is used to catch the ball. And this is where 3D printing comes in, as DeSimone realized that a bigger stick head would make the game far more accessible. “I took a regular lacrosse head, expanded the dimensions by three and then printed it with a 3D printer,” DeSimone told USA TODAY High School Sports. “We wanted to bend the learning curve to help the kids with special needs learn to play.”

To do so, he went to makerspace in Brooklyn with a 3D scanner. “I took the plans and had it scanned in Brooklyn, then I found a 3D printer in Long Island I could use and 65 hours later we had it in hand. We now have a second prototype which is about 50 percent lighter, the shaft fits correctly and it’s easier to string like a goalie head,” he says. That prototype will now be used to create a line of new sticks, which will hopefully help them to more effectively teach the game’s core skills to kids.

Hopefully, this will be the boost that their Challenger League needs, and they are already looking at expanding into other cities. “We want to get (the new head) in the hands of our athletes this spring.” DeSimone said. “Long term we’d like to expand across New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania so we can have a real league. I think in the next year or two we can do more of that. Right now there are very small leagues in Syosset and Garden City.”

Part of this will, however, rely on their ability of parents to invest in this inspiring concept – though they have largely succeeded. “The biggest challenge was getting off the ground. It’s easy to have an idea, but getting started and moving is harder. Getting people to trust you with their money is hard to convince them to do. We’ve raised that money and now we’re moving. … We’re completely non-profit and all about the kids. They’re number 1. It’s all about being selfless and giving back and providing a space for these kids where they can thrive. We want to grow that mission and help more children,” DeSimone says.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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