By Debbie Adams
Vinton Moose Lodge Family Center 1121 hosted the USA Patriots Softball Team for lunch on August 26 as they visited the Roanoke Valley for the weekend. They were here to take on a team of first responders at Salem Memorial Ballpark and raise awareness of and funds for their cause. They are a non-profit group whose mission is “to bring athletic and veteran amputees together to promote the benefits of inclusive sport and therapeutic recreational activities.”
According to their website, “Through the sport of slow pitch softball, the organization has grown in significant ways by providing athletic programming, youth programming initiatives to teach the abilities of adaptive sport by veterans, and engaging our veterans in communities to show off the abilities they now have as post-trauma athletes.”
The Friday night game was sponsored this year by the Salem Red Sox, the Virginia Moose, the USA Patriots Amputee Softball Team, and Salem Parks and Recreation.
Vinton Mayor Brad Grose, a U.S. Army veteran himself, attended the luncheon and thanked the veterans for their service, saluted them, and presented them with InVinton pins.
During the luncheon, a $1,000 donation was presented to the team from the Vinton Moose Lodge.
One of the veterans on the team visiting in Vinton said that most of those on this particular team have a baseball background. The group included 12 players and three drivers/coaches/trainers. The teams vary on different trips, depending upon work schedules and commitments.
The team travels the United States “playing able-bodied teams in competition and exhibition softball games, bringing their unique brand of softball, courage, and inspiration to communities across the country.” They were on a Tour of Virginia from August 24-28.
The USA Patriot team is made up of competitive athletic veterans who have lost limbs in either combat or non-combat related injuries. The group who came to Vinton, Roanoke, and Salem last week represented the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. The team also included a student amputee who had attended the USA Patriot Kids’ Camp and his father.
These individuals continue to push the limits of modern prosthetics to inspire, motivate and offer a place for camaraderie and healing on and off the field of play and to continue “Serving Beyond the Uniform.”
The Vinton Moose shared hosting duties with the Salem and Roanoke Moose Lodges throughout the weekend. After the luncheon at the Moose Lodge in Vinton, the team would play their game in the evening, visit the Roanoke Moose Lodge afterwards, return to Vinton for breakfast on Saturday morning, and then attend a “Meet and Greet” at the Virginia Veterans Care Center in Salem. They would be back at the Vinton Lodge on Saturday night for their Shrimpfest.
The team’s previous stops this spring and summer had been in Sevierville, Tenn., and Long Island, N.Y. In September they will be playing a game in Huntsville, Ala., then travel to Hilton Head, S.C., in November. The team comes to the Roanoke/Salem area about once a year.
The USA Patriots organization “started with one week of spring training to veterans who were just learning to walk at Walter Reed hospital. After the week was over, it was clear that the ability to use softball to heal these veterans in both a physical and emotional capacity was significant enough to establish a constant program in support of these opportunities. The team was then established in 2011 and took off quite well.
“After a great deal of success as a team, the veterans came together asking how they could give back to the communities who supported their journey to health. It seemed most natural to give back to the amputee community to use their service to show that ‘life without limbs can be limitless.’”
A Kids’ Camp was established, funded by the softball team, with members “using their military leadership skills to become coaches for young children who may think an amputee cannot play sports.” This program is hosted by veterans for those outside the veteran population, focusing on children with limb loss.
The team’s programs are funded through donations. The funds raised on this trip would be used for Kids’ Camp.
Scotty Fura, Jr., from New York, attended the first week-long Kids’ Camp held in Orlando in 2013 (they are held in a different location each year.) He says they “played softball all week,” spending time on drills, hitting, and fielding, and concluded the week with a game.
As they travel, the USA Patriots also attempt to educate the public on the abilities and needs of wounded veterans. They visit schools, corporations, and new amputees in VA’s and hospitals across the country.
Members of the USA Patriots on this trip included:
Ben Cortez (Marines) from San Marcos, Texas, who lost his right leg below the knee and the toes on his left food.
Scotty Fura, Jr. from Syracuse, N.Y., an alumna of the first Kids’ Camp. He lost his right arm in a lawn mower accident in 2005 and first met the team in 2011. He will graduate from college next year and plans a career in law enforcement.
Scott Fura, a detective from upstate New York, who is the father of Scotty Fura, Jr.
Brian Gentilotti (Air Force), who lost his right leg below the knee. He currently lives in Jefferson, Mass., and works in the transportation industry.
Reese Hines (Air Force), who suffered multiple skull and facial fractures, the loss of his eye, and injuries to his left leg while attempting to detonate an IED. He received the Bronze Star twice, a Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal. He lives in San Antonio.
John Mitchell (Army), who joined the team after the loss of his thumb. He runs a successful business in Tampa.
Saul Monray (Marines), who lost his left leg below the knee when an IED struck his M-ATV vehicle during a combat tour in Afghanistan. He was awarded numerous medals, including the Purple Heart. He is a small family-business owner in El Paso, Texas.
Cody Rice (Army), who served two combat missions in Afghanistan. He lost his right foot when he stepped on a land mine, rendering him a below knee amputee. He was awarded the Purple Heart. He comes from California where he is pursuing a college degree.
Kai Schjang coaches the team. He served 28 years in the Virgin Islands National Guard as a Military Police officer. He lives in St. Croix.
Randy Tedder (Navy) lost his left leg below the knee just weeks after discharge from the service when 2,300 pounds of steel from a forklift severed his leg. He received the National Defense Service Medal.
The USA Patriots are always looking for active-duty military personnel and veterans with amputations to tryout and potentially become part of the team. For more information, visit the website at https://usapatriotsathletics.org/.