Wheelchair athletes filled the air with the sounds of their bone-jarring collisions Feb. 9 and 10 during the Mile High Mayhem Rugby Tournament at Englewood High School.
The two-day tournament drew teams from Florida, California, Nevada and Arizona as well as two squads from the Craig Hospital-sponsored Denver Harlequins.
On Feb. 9 Jason Regier, a Harlequin player, was taping his arms and hands in preparation for a game.
“I was in Craig about 15 years ago when I saw my first wheelchair rugby tournament,” the Centennial resident said. “I really liked what I saw of the game. I guess I was hooked and a year later, I joined the team. I like the attitude for teammates and other players on and off the court and I like the game as part of my active lifestyle.”
He said playing wheelchair rugby is part of making sure to live life at its fullest and a way to show that guys in wheelchairs can still play active, hard-hitting sports and can still travel.
Regier has traveled extensively for tournaments and clinics and, most recently, traveling to London where he was a member of the gold medal wheelchair rugby team at the 2012 Paralympics.
He explained that the game is a four-on-four matchup on a basketball court. The object is to use the blocks of teammates in order to break free of defenders and get at least two wheels across the end line to score a goal.
The game is divided into eight-minute quarters. Breaking a rule sends the offender into the penalty box, giving the opposition a man-up advantage.
Players set picks and screens on attack and defenders go in hard to try to keep the player with the ball away from the goal line. The ball can be carried but the ball carrier must dribble or pass the ball every 10 seconds.
The team on offense has 40 seconds to score a goal or the ball goes over to the opponent so the action moves quickly so there are aggressive plays to stop the attack like high impact collisions that are bone-jarring for the blocker and the blockee. The impact can flatten tires or even knock the wheelchairs over. In either case, support staff has one minute to right the chair or change the wheel.
Players are in special wheelchairs customized to fit them and are four- to six-inches lower than a regular chair. The rugby wheelchairs also have a metal bumper-style system on the front and, to increase speed, the wheels are cambered at a greater angle. Wheels are solid metal instead of being made of spokes and are mounted on a quick-release system to make them easy to change.
On the court, sounds are spectators cheered on their favorite teams and the metal-on-metal wheelchair collisions.
It is a different atmosphere in the cafeteria Feb. 9 as the Craig Hospital-sponsored Denver Harlequins prepare for their game with the University of Arizona Wildcats.
Harlequins veteran Adam Scaturro was taping his hands and arms for the game.
“I’ve been playing for 14 years, I love the sport and I started playing when I was still going to Lakewood High School,” he said. “To me, wheelchair rugby provides a level playing field for all athletes and I love the fast pace action on the floor.”
He said when he goes into the game, he brings leadership, experience, high intensity plus he likes to go out and hit opponents.
Parker resident Robert Schuler joined the Harlequins about four years go.
“I really like the sport,” he said. “It is great exercise, it keeps me active and it is a great community of friends. The game also pushes me to get better because I want to improve my play to help my team win.”