America's new favorite team: Wounded Warriors

PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. - "Half these guys are Army, the other half are Marines," said Dave Van Sleet, describing the Warriors softball team. "And they're best friends now."

Van Sleet is the coach and creator of the Wounded Warrior Amputee softball team. CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann reports Van Sleet spent 32 years working at Veterans Affairs hospitals, fitting prosthetic limbs on wounded soldiers.

What started as a pick-up game in Arizona last March has turned into a national tour.

"When I saw what was coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, these young guys in the the shape they're in," Van Sleet said, "They need to get back into sports. That's what they were doing before and that's what they need to get back to now."

"We're America's new favorite team," he added.

Shortstop Matt Kinsey was a sergeant with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan. He lost his foot when he stepped on a landmine.

"The big thing for me was, I played sports growing up, and when you lose a body part you wonder if you're ever going to play again," Kinsey asked.

"I used to play this game six nights of the week before I joined the Marine Corps," Josh Wege said. Wege was a Marine Lance Corporal in Afghanistan in 2009. A bomb exploded under the armored vehicle he was riding in.

"It's a very surreal feeling," Wege said. "I was 19 at the time and just looking down and seeing that - the weirdest thing goes through your mind. I had just bought a stickshift car, and I was like, 'How am I going to drive that? How am I going to play sports?'"

Wege, the team's only double-amputee, pitches and plays first base for the Warriors.

"I still love this game," he said. "To keep playing means to world to me, and I know it does to these guys."

The Warriors play to boost morale, competing against only able-bodied teams in exhibition games. Private donations pay for their national tour, including this game in Panama City Beach Florida against a team from Tyndall Air Force Base.

Donate to the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team

The Warriors have played 17 games so far and won10 of them. They lost the game that CBS News photographed, but they won the crowd.

It's very emotional for coach Van Sleet. "That they had to go through what they did for our country. They've gone through extensive rehabilitation. They've learned how to get back into society. It's amazing, it's just amazing."

"I would like my legs back - but I mean you've got to look at the glass half full," Wege said. "It's a very humbling experience to be able to play for this team, be able to travel to some very awesome places and play the game we all love."

"Make the best out of a very bad situation," Kinsey added.

That message is reflected in the Wounded Warriors team motto: life without a limb is limitless.

  • Mark Strassmann

    Mark Strassmann was named CBS News Transportation correspondent in August 2011. He has been a CBS News correspondent since January 2001, and is based in the Atlanta bureau.

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