Benjamin Carpenter has earned a reputation on his soccer team.
After a flip he did at a national competition, the King High School 12th-grader earned the nickname “Da Hammer.”
Power soccer is the first competitive team sport designed and developed specifically for power wheelchair users, according to the USPSA.
There are no grocery store scooters bumping soccer balls around a grassy field here. The game is played in a gymnasium on a regulation basketball court. Two teams of four players attack, defend, and spin-kick a 13-inch soccer ball.
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The game has evolved from a somewhat chaotic “demolition derby,” according to Benjamin, into an internationally recognized sport played with skill and intensity. (To see it for yourself, check out the video above.)
Benjamin is a midfielder on his four-man team, and there are also two wings and a keeper. The Tampa Thunder, which practices at All People’s Life Center, is the third-ranked team in the nation, and Benjamin was named Most Valuable Player of the 2011 Americas Champions Cup. That game was played in Vancouver, Canada, and Benjamin’s team came in second place.
On Wednesday, Benjamin was on stage at the King High auditorium in front of fellow students, family and administrators to receive an honor only afforded to the most unique, exceptional and determined athletes in the country. He’s is one of 10 finalists for the inaugural U.S. Army - Pro Football Hall of Fame Award for Excellence. He was welcomed by former Miami Dolphin Nick Buoniconti and Army representatives.
The U.S. Army – Pro Football Hall of Fame Award for Excellence was launched in January and recognizes student athletes from across the country for their achievements in sports, academics and for their work in the community.
“Athletes and Army Strong Soldiers possess a unique and similar set of strengths,” said John Myers, director of Marketing at U.S. Army Marketing and Research Group. “We are excited to partner with the Pro Football Hall of Fame and to recognize these outstanding student-athletes; athletes who excel in their area of sport and who also excel academically. The most important attribute is that they are upstanding members of their communities.”
The honor didn’t come quick or easy for Benjamin, who was born with a genetic disorder called Spinal muscular atrophy.
“He never stood or walked as a baby,” said his mother, Tari Carpenter.
Benjamin was 2 years old before he was diagnosed.
“(Spinal muscular atrophy) is the No. 1 killer of children under 2 years of age,” Carpenter said.
“Doctors said he wouldn't live past 3,” she added. “He has exceeded every medical expectation.”
The Shriners Hospital of Tampa has a great deal to do with Benjamin’s development, Carpenter said.
“They never put a limit on him and have been instrumental in his self confidence,” she explained. “They are a big part of who he is today—why he is so compelled to give back.”
Benjamin has done much for his sport and his future. He has a 6.2 weighted GPA in King’s International Baccalaureate program and an SAT score of 2120. He has already been accepted to the University of Central Florida and has ambitions of becoming a mechanical engineer.
“From when I was young, I always enjoyed theme parks,” Benjamin said.
He said he hopes to help parks build bigger, better, faster rides, and he’s even worked with park engineers at Disney World on a recent trip to Orlando.
“It was basically the introduction they give to new employees,” he said.
As a finalist in the U.S. Army - Pro Football Hall of Fame Award for Excellence, Benjamin will participate in activities during the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio. The inaugural winner of the recognition will be announced Jan. 4.
“We look forward to joining with the 10 finalists in San Antonio in January and celebrating their achievements,” Myers said.
Whether he’s on the court or hitting the books, Benjamin said he wants to gain recognition for power soccer and disabled sports in general.
“I want us to be known as exceptional athletes and not athletes with exceptions,” he said.