Lee Montgomery brings an inclusive coaching style to adaptive sports

When it comes to immersing yourself in adaptive sports and recreation, “Coach” Lee Montgomery has a mantra: “How do you play this game? I want to try it.”

And try the 65-year-old Kentwood resident for himself and to show others how to do the same.

Montgomery, a double amputee below the knees, took on the challenge of playing wheelchair softball, tennis, pickleball, hockey and fencing. He medaled at the Paralympic Games, traveled the world, won a gold medal in wheelchair basketball in 1990 at the Pan American Games, and ranked 10th in the United States among wheelchair tennis players in 1993.

He started dribbling a ball in 1977 as a member of the Columbus Buckeye Wheelers and later with the Grand Rapids Pacers, where he began an 18-year career as a point guard. can-do Montgomery found himself in good company with other athletes with disabilities.

“I had players travel two hours to play on the adult Grand Rapids team, the Pacers Division One basketball team,” says Montgomery, who was inducted into the Grand Rapids Sports Hall of Fame. Rapids in 2006 and in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association Hall of Fame. in 2015.

Teach love and respect

He volunteered as a coach for the City of Kentwood Recreation Program Wheelchair Basketball Team, a passion he continues with the team at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.

Kentwood’s adaptive recreation programs include a range of sports from wakeboarding to rock climbing.

“Adaptive sports taught me by the grace of God to share with others to teach them to love and respect themselves,” says Montgomery.

But the goal is not to publish a bragging sheet, insists Montgomery. This is to enable other people with disabilities to try adapted sports and recreation.

The word is out. Kentwood’s adaptive recreation programs draw an average of 250 people from across West Michigan, including Grand Rapids, Fremont, Wyoming, Allegan and Kalamazoo, says Ann Przybysz, Kentwood Recreation Program Coordinator, Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist .

“I learned to play tennis from Lee when he was my group coach at Grand Rapids Jr Wheelchair Sports Camp when I was in college. I’ve always looked up to him over the years,” says Lucia Rios, a disability activist who lives in Holland, Michigan.

Kentwood Rec’s Adapted Recreation Program takes a “come one, come all” approach that does not require participants to be city residents.

The Kentwood Department of Parks and Recreation offers the most comprehensive adaptive recreation program in Michigan in partnership with community partners including the Down Syndrome Association of West Michigan, Hope Network, Mary Free Bed and dozens of volunteers.

Adapted recreation is for people with various disabilities, says Przybysz.

‘Everyone come’

In other words, Kentwood Rec’s Adapted Recreation Program has adopted a “come one, come all” approach that does not require participants to be city residents.

“It’s for people of all abilities, who use hobbies and recreation as a way to improve social, emotional, physical and mental well-being,” says Przybysz. “It’s about tailoring different programs to the needs of the people we serve so everyone can successfully participate.”

Kentwood’s adaptive recreation programs attract an average of 250 people from across West Michigan.

Leisure options include archery, cycling club, boccia league, bowling, canoeing, downhill skiing, golf league, country club, kayaking, rock climbing, athletic clinics, pickleball, wakeboarding and waterskiing, as well as dances and other social events.

“We work a lot with the community to try to find locations that meet our needs,” says Przybysz. “Some programs have gone on for a very long time.”

The remnants of the COVID-19 pandemic have in some ways tempered participation in adapted recreation, while others have returned to normal.

“We used to get a lot of group homes involved, but since COVID it’s been hard for them to come back,” says Przybysz. “It’s one of the biggest changes. But people are back to normal. Some people are still wearing their masks, and they are welcome. They still have compromised systems. We meet people where they are.

This article is part of a year-long series on disability inclusion exploring the state of the growing disability community in West Michigan. The series is made possible through a partnership with the West Michigan Centers for Independent Living organizations.