J. P. Barfield will be exchanging his duties as the chairperson of the exercise science, physical education and wellness department at Tennessee Tech University to classify athletes for the Powerchair Football World Cup in Paris.
Barfield will spend nine days in Paris working with wheelchair-bound athletes to test their reflexes, motor control and range of motion, among other things. As a classifier, Barfield will help score athletes on national teams to ensure equitable competition among international competitors.
He is one of two Americans selected as classifiers for the games; the other is a physical therapist in Indianapolis.
“Classification screens people to make sure everyone can participate,” Barfield said. “The point is to make sure that people with the lowest functioning aren’t excluded.”
Classifiers assign points to each player; each team has a maximum level of points to ensure teams are equally matched. This process gives athletes of varying abilities a chance to compete.
“People who use powerchairs don’t have a lot of sport options, so this is becoming more popular,” he said. “The game is very fast when it’s played with skilled players.”
In addition to his duties at TTU, Barfield is a research associate at Lakeshore Foundation, a non-profit organization in Alabama that works with persons with physical disablilities so they can pursue active, healthy and independent lives. While there, he heard about the call for classifiers to come to the Paris Cup.
The game is similar to soccer, but played by athletes in powered wheelchairs. The International Paralympic Committee recently recognized it and international rules and standards were finalized in 2006. The first World Cup was played in China in 2007; the American team won.
Ten countries, including the U.S. and Canada, will compete in this year’s games. France is the favorite to win.
“Disability sport is one of the few outlets that people with disabilities have that is similar to what able-bodied people can do,” Barfield said. “There are very few opportunities for people with disabilities to compete in any kind of athletic competition, especially competitions that allow individuals the opportunity to represent their country.”