Tommie Storms '81
Few people seem as confident with the path they have chosen as Tommie Storms ‘81 obviously is. “There is great satisfaction in just answering the call when it comes,” she said. “And this was it for me.”
Storms is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the American Association of adaptedSPORTS® Programs, based in Atlanta. AAASP’s mission is to develop a standardized infrastructure of school-based sports teams for kids with physical disabilities.
Storms’ role at AAASP is probably not one she envisioned for herself after receiving her B.A. in Theater at Limestone. After working in the radio, television and music industries, Storms was the director of the Music Business Institute in Atlanta when she volunteered for a sports program for disabled students.
“I saw how well this program was working and I thought, ‘why isn’t this happening elsewhere?’” Storms said. The director of that program, Bev Vaughn, and Storms went on to co-found AAASP.
“We saw a discrepancy where kids with disabilities, and even kids who had cognitive impairments, had an opportunity to be healthy and engage in sport,” said Storms. “[Before], these kids only had an opportunity at the regional or national level, like the Special Olympics.” So Storms and Vaughn created a way for the current structure for athletics in schools to simply create a division, based on the adaptedSPORTS® model, to get kids with disabilities involved in games.
Storms cites the fact that students with physical disabilities are twice as likely to drop out of school, become pregnant teens and be delayed in their high school graduation – largely due to secondary health problems that they develop as a result of inactivity. But there are tremendous benefits to be enjoyed when disabled children are given the opportunity to participate in school sports. “You learn how to deal with life in sports, how to win and how to lose and how to work with a team,” said Storms. “These kids need play for their health and socialization.”
AAASP sanctions sports such as wheelchair handball, wheelchair basketball, wheelchair football, power soccer and track and field. Another sport, beep baseball, is specially designed for students who are blind or visually impaired.
The organization is also working to create formal policy for disabled students similar to what was created for girls with the passage of Title IX. “That policy will help give our schools some guidelines. The problem isn’t that people haven’t wanted to give these kids the opportunity,” said Storms, “it’s that they’ve not known how.” So far, Georgia, Florida and Kentucky are members of AAASP and use their rules to create equal opportunity for the children in their states.
“There are about 1.5 million kids in the nation who are suffering unnecessarily because they are treated differently and can’t become as active as other kids, and it’s because we haven’t invented a way for them to do it,” said Storms. “It’s silly how affordable and easy this can be if we’re all working with the same requirements and training.”
When she first starting working with AAASP, Storms’ attitude and feelings toward the disabled community were similar to anyone else’s. “Anytime any of us looks at someone with a disability, we can’t help but take stock in our blessings and be thankful that we have children who are healthy. We can’t imagine the challenges these kids face every day.”
But soon Storms was facing something all too familiar to many of the children and families she worked with. Her nephew, Bryan, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor just five months before his college graduation and 11 months before marrying his college sweetheart. Initially, his doctors gave him only six weeks to live. But his family was able to find a surgeon willing to remove part of the tumor in order to buy Bryan more time. Bryan was able to be with Storms and the rest of the family for 2 ½ years.
Since losing Bryan, Storms has traveled the country to raise awareness of the lack of organized sports for children with disabilities and has been inspired again and again by many of the kids she has seen who have risen above their physical limitations and brought hope to their families and themselves. One young man had suffered a brain infection when he was just six years old. Doctors had to remove half of his brain, which left him with limited reasoning skills and unable to speak or write. He was put on one of the organization’s basketball teams and taught how to inbound a ball and set a pick. Using an auditory device, his dad could relay the coach’s instructions to him while he was on the court. Now a senior in high school, this young man is in a regular classroom and no longer uses a wheelchair. His doctors say that the stimulation of being on a team and having constant direction helped to redevelop one side of his brain and recover much of what had been lost.
Such success stories provide Storms with the drive to press on toward the goal of reaching total equality in school-based sports for disabled kids. She remains inspired by something her colleague Vaughn once said. “If God wants something, you cannot tear it down,” Storms recalls. “And what I know every day is that I’m on the right side of this work and it’s wanted, because I see the support and the miracles that happen every day.”
For more information on AAASP, including videos demonstrating how each of the different adapted sports are played, please visit www.adaptedsports.org or find them on Facebook. You can also hear the latest news about AAASP on their international monthly Internet-based radio broadcast on SportsTalk at the Positive Pub on Voice America. The show airs every second Monday of each month from 1:00-2:00 pm with 2.5 million listeners worldwide.