March 22, 2006
Fast-paced, hard-knocks quad rugby gives spinal cord injured players confidence, independence
By Susan Christensen
Health and Reseasrch News Servie
JACKSON, Miss.—Jim Chaney of Vicksburg first heard about quad rugby when he was still wrestling with the news he would never walk again. So learning the wheelchair sport was hardly tops on his to-do list.
But the second time he was invited to participate, Chaney tried his hand at the hard-knocks game and was hooked. He’s now a traveling member of the Jackson Jags, the only team in Mississippi that competes in the fast-paced sport known as “murderball.”
One of about 45 organized quad rugby teams in the nation, the Jags play in the Heartland South region of the United States Quad Rugby Association. They primarily compete against teams in Kentucky, Missouri and Alabama.
“Fortunately, we’ve always gotten support from Methodist Rehabilitation Center and the Mississippi Paralysis Association to help pay for travel expenses and equipment,” said team coach Ginny Boydston, a therapeutic recreation director at Methodist. “Last year, Ameristar Casino Vicksburg began donating money, as well, and their generosity has meant a lot to the team.”
Quad rugby is played in heavy-duty wheelchairs on a regulation basketball court. Players—all of whom have a combination of upper and lower extremity impairments—score by advancing a volleyball over the goal line.
The journey sends them through a gauntlet of wheelchair drivers who bash each other in pursuit of the ball—and therein lies the attraction.
“It’s fun to ram into things,” Chaney said. But there are finer points to the game, as well. “There are all kinds of little rules that took forever to get used, too,” he said.
Some infractions include touching another player’s body or wheelchair with the hands, deliberately spinning another athlete’s chair out of control or slamming into another chair before the whistle blows.
To make the game fair, each team is made up of a mixture of players with varying abilities. Players are classified on a scale of .5 to 3.5, and the classification of the four players on the court must total no more than eight points. A typical lineup might feature one player with good mobility, one player with less mobility and two players of average function.
The award-winning documentary “Murderball” recently thrust the sport in the spotlight. And the Jags used the film’s Mississippi debut as an opportunity to do some outreach.
Boydston said the timing was fortuitous. A few days after “Murderball” hit the screen in Ridgeland, Hurricane Katrina displaced half her players.
“Four of our players lived in New Orleans and one is from the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” Boydston said. “It was a week and a half before we heard everyone was okay, and those were some tense times.”
Once everyone was accounted for, Boydston decided to take a break from tournament play and focus instead on clinics and exhibition games. “It actually turned out to be a positive experience because we’ve needed to do some recruiting,” Boydston said.
The team returned to competition at a January tournament in Atlanta that was co-hosted by the Jags and the Smash from Shepherd Center in Atlanta.
It was Chaney’s first tournament, and he says it was an experience he definitely plans to repeat. “It’s just fun to go play,” he said. “And I like traveling.”
Boydston said a major benefit of quad rugby is it expands players’ horizons and encourages self-reliance. “Through practicing for rugby, they’ve learned how to transfer themselves from one chair to another without assistance. And they’ve learned how to travel by themselves. Rugby has given all the guys an increased level of independence and that really helps their self-confidence.”
It’s also a great activity for overall fitness, notes Chaney, who has been a quadriplegic since a 2002 car accident. “Pushing the rugby chair works muscles you can’t really work out in the gym. I’ve noticed when I’m pushing a cart in the grocery store I don’t get tired as quickly now.”
Those interested in learning more about quad rugby in Mississippi can call Bodyston at 601-364-3566.
Quad rugby player Jim Chaney, center, of Vicksburg, listens as coach Ginny Boydston explains a play to Chaney and player Mike Blackburn of Newton.
Jackson Jags quad rugby player Jim Chaney of Vicksburg waits for the whistle to signal a new play. The team is sponsored by Methodist Rehabilitation Center, the Mississippi Paralysis Association and Ameristar Casino Vicksburg.