Christy pioneered adaptive sports; made sure all could play
Minnesota has lost a pioneer in adaptive sports. James Alan “Jim” Christy died this spring after a long battle with cancer. He was 71 and lived in Minneapolis. A celebration of life was held in May in Minneapolis.
Christy, who is described as having a larger-than-life personality, is considered to be one of the fathers of adapted prep sports in Minnesota. He was a strong advocate for himself and for the rights of others.
James Christy was born May 12th, 1949 in Minneapolis, to Violet and Marion Christy. He lived with cerebral palsy, which had an impact on his early life. Until age 7, Christy’s parents didn’t realize that it was possible for him to even attend school. He often joked that he went to school and never left.
He attended Michael Dowling School through eighth grade, and then went on to graduate from Marshall High School.
Christy furthered his education with a degree from what was then Minneapolis Community College, going on to earn a bachelor’s degree in therapeutic recreation from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in special education at Utah State University.
During his first year of teaching, Christy was on faculty at Marshall-University High School. It was the last year his alma mater was open. He continued to teach in a life skills program and at Roosevelt High School. He would spend most of his career at South High School, teaching special education and working with South Tigers teams.
Christy had always enjoyed sports but couldn’t join school teams as a youngster. As a student at Marshall High School, he was among a group of students with disabilities who pushed for the chance to play floor hockey. The students wrote their own rules, adapted for athletes with disabilities. Adapted soccer would follow.
He coached adapted sports at South for decades, leading teams in soccer, baseball and floor hockey. His teams made about three dozen state tournament appearances, and earned many placings at the state level. But his work went well beyond the walls of South High School.
Christy worked with many other teams coaches and sports officials. He helped other teams get started and wrote some of the first rules for competition.
He even designed some adaptive equipment. In 1987, adapted soccer goals were tape on wall. In an attempt to see what was possible for regular goals Christy and Clyde Riddel built a set of goals out of PVC pipe and netting. The improvised goals eventually led to the use of commercially made nets.
Christy talked to Minnesota Parent magazine about how coaches improvised and rewrote game rules. “We rewrote them for kids in wheelchairs, kids that didn’t have legs, kids that didn’t have arms, kids who couldn’t hold the stick,” Christy says. “We tried to be fair to everybody.”
In other interviews, he spoke of how young athletes went from simply enjoying the chance to play to being competitive and wanting to win.
Christy dedicated much time to the Minnesota Adapted Athletics Association (MAAA), founded in 1969, to provide youth with disabilities the same opportunity as other students enjoy the benefits of a quality high school sports program. The association formed to provide support, scheduling and playoff ratings for the sports of soccer, floor hockey and softball. Christy served on its board for many years, holding the offices of president, vice present and treasurer. He also served on its rules committee.
In 1992, the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) accepted a proposal from MAAA to become the first high school activity association in the nation to sponsor adapted athletic programs. The first state tournaments and championships under the MSHSL umbrella began in 1994.
Schools now compete in adapted floor hockey, softball, soccer and bowling. Teams compete in divisions for cognitive and physical disabilities. Athletes with disabilities can also compete in track and field events.
Christy was a member of the Minnesota Adapted Coaches Association, the Council for Exceptional Children and the Special Education Advisory Council to the State Board of Education. He was also active in Special Olympics.
He was indicated into the state high school league’s hall of fame in 2009. Previous awards included the Virginia McKnight Binger Award for Human Services and an MAAA Appreciation Award. In spring 2015 he was honored with a plaque on the South High Wall of Honor.
He is remembered for always staying in touch with former students, parents and colleagues, well beyond retirement from South.
Christy met his wife, Jean Otto, through Minneapolis Public Schools. They married in 1983.
He is survived by his wife Jean and her parents, a sister, and many nieces and nephews. To continue his legacy of education he donated his body to the University of Minnesota Medical School Anatomy Bequest Program.
Memorials are preferred to M Fairview Health Masonic Cancer Center, Gillette Lifetime Specialty Clinic and Ronald McDonald House.