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The wheelchair volleyball World Series is coming to Crestwood this week


Fate did not surprise him when Justin Hillman was born.

He threw a ball at 100 mph right on his head.

The 27-year-old from New Lenox was born with cerebral palsy, which devastated him physically, affecting his daily activities like talking and walking.

That didn’t stop him. He graduated from Lincoln-Way Central High School, earned a degree in human performance from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, drives a car, has a job, and takes part in a variety of adaptive sports.

This includes wheelchair softball, and Hillman is at Ozinga Field in Crestwood, 14011 S. Kenton Ave, Thursday through Saturday.

Hillman plays for the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association’s Hawks and, among all his achievements, is near the top by winning the Junior World Series with the Hawks in Chicago in 2014.

“It was one of the most wonderful and unforgettable moments in my life,” he said.

Hillman is an employee of LWSRA, leading programs and coaching teams and is happy to do so.

“Justin brings a lot of energy and provides a positive environment for everyone,” said Keith Wallace, LWSRA Executive Director. “He’s always upbeat and having a good time.

“He never gets angry. He’s one of those guys who is well-balanced and brings a lot of energy.”

Instead of feeling sorry for herself for having to overcome obstacles, Hillman takes the approach of trying her best.

“You can stay inside or go out and get things done,” he said. “On and off the pitch, it’s important to be the best version of yourself you can be.”

He said he enjoys helping people because many people in the LWSRA organization have helped him over the years. It was like a big family to him.

The Hawks are fourth in the 20-team Division I group. At 10:30 on Thursday, they open the game by playing Ghana or the Deep South Hurricanes.

A team representing Japan, which won the tournament last year, came back and finished #1.

There will also be special brackets that include an international section, a women’s exhibition, a veterans’ exhibition, and a youth section.

Alongside established rosters, players from all over the world will join teams in the tournament and meet new teammates for the first time.

Dutchman Frank Hooning is one of them.

He said he started a team in his home country five years ago and it’s gaining momentum, but the pandemic has slowed things down and numbers are still low.

“I want to get a fully functional team so we can get in here with a full team.”

Dutchman Frank Hooning trains with the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association Hawks at the LWSRA field in New Lenox on Saturday.  Hooning will participate in the National Wheelchair Softball Association World Series alongside other athletes from around the world.

Hooning stopped by the LWSRA field on Saturday for some training and was amazed by the facility built for special needs athletes.

“We don’t have such fields, you know?” said. “I love the field here. I was stunned when I got here by car. It’s a dream for me to have a field like this in my hometown.”

Hooning couldn’t wait to play his first Major League Baseball game and planned to see White Sox host Cleveland in the Guaranteed Odds Field this weekend.

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Long-time Twins pitcher and Hall of Fame Bert Blyleven said the Netherlands took great interest in MLB when he made his nation proud when he shot from 1970-1992.

The sport also gained momentum in his country in 2011 when the national team won the World Baseball Cup and beat 25-time champion Cuba in what turned out to be the final game of the long-running event.

Hooning said that interest has since waned, but there are still some fans.

He’s trying to bring back some of the soul with this wheelchair softball initiative. He said he had enjoyed playing sports for years.

“I love how people interact with each other,” she said. “It’s also a social game. You can do anything – whatever you want – while playing. It’s a fun game thanks to the people you meet.

“And you never know where the ball goes or what it will do.”

Jeff Vorva is a freelance reporter for the Daily Southtown.


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