When the movie “Murderball” came out last summer focusing on the game between Team USA and Team Canada at the 2004 Para-olympics, the documentary captured the hard-hitting excitement of a sport called Quad Rugby. For many, the movie was an eye opener about a game played by quadriplegics in what amounts to an armored chair.
But it was nothing new to Dominic Clemas, who started playing Quad Rugby almost 25 years ago, when he was 16 years old. Clemas is co-coach and a player on the Twin Cities based Minnesota Ice Quad Rugby team. He played Quad Rugby at the World Games and in the Paralympics from 1985 to 1992 and continues to play and coach today.
“I started playing the game in 1981 through a program at Courage Center,” said Clemas, who is a mechanical drafter with Pinnacle Engineering. “It was just 16 months after my accident. I love the competition. We practice and play September through April so it’s a great way to stay in shape in the winter.”
Quad Rugby is a sport with roots going back to wheelchair basketball and ice hockey and is essentially the quadriplegic equivalent to wheelchair basketball. Developed in Canada, the sport was originally called “Murderball” – hence the name of the movie – due to the aggressive nature of the game. Quad Rugby is a fast paced, full contact wheelchair sport played indoors on a modified basketball court.
It was introduced in the United States in 1981 with the first Quad Rug-by match in the U.S. played in 1982 between North Dakota and Minnesota. That same year, the University of South Dakota hosted the first international tournament, with participating teams from Manitoba, Saskatchewan, North Dakota and Minnesota. In 1988, the United States Quad Rugby Association was formed to help regulate and promote the sport.
According to Minnesota Ice team manager Todd Kemery, there are now some 40 teams in the U.S. in this fast-growing sport, with tournaments scheduled throughout the year. Upcoming for the Minnesota Ice are tournaments in Milwaukee on Nov. 19-20, 2005 and in Chicago on Dec. 3-4, 2005.
“We practice on Wednesdays and Saturdays and currently have 11 people on our team,” said Kemery, who is sports director of the Minnesota Paralyzed Veterans of America. The Marine veteran suffered a spinal cord injury in 1982. “Courage Center provides us with equipment and with a place to practice. We also couldn’t run the team without our volunteers.
“The biggest benefit to this game is the sense of accomplishment we get. A new quad will sometimes think ‘I can’t do anything.’ The sport builds muscle and helps you get stronger. I didn’t play wheelchair sports until after I moved to Minnesota in 1991. This is a thriving sports community for people with disabilities. I’ve been playing Quad Rugby since 1995 and it’s my favorite. Playing sports helps you become more self- reliant, which carries over into your professional and personal life as well.”
Both males and females are welcome to play Quad Rugby, with players given a classification number from one of seven classifications ranging from 0.5 – 3.5. The 0.5 player has the greatest impairment and is comparable to a C5 quad. Four players from each team are allowed on the court at a time. Classifications of the four players on the court must total no more than 8.0 points at one time.
A game consists of four 8 minute periods. During the game, team players pass a volleyball back and forth while advancing into the opponent’s half court. A player has 15 seconds to advance the ball into the opponent’s half court and must pass or dribble the ball every 10 seconds or a turnover is awarded.
“My primary purpose is to block players so I have a defensive chair,” said Adam McCord, who had a car accident at age 16, has been playing Quad Rugby since 1997 and recently graduated with a degree in genetics from the University of Minnesota. “The faster, stronger guys carry the ball. We have a range of ages on our team. The older guys really know how to play the game and we can learn from them.”
Jody Mines, who is co-coach along with Clemas, has been playing Quad Rugby for 12 years. “I played football and hockey in high school and college before I had a car accident, so it is a blast to get back into competition,” said Mines, who is a shipping manager at Cambria in LeSueur. “After our injuries, quads are often very isolated. With this game you learn a lot about life and it’s great to be part of a team.”
In addition to Clemas, Kemery, McCord and Mines, team members include Jesse Honl, Keith Newerla, Eddie Brosnan, Jeremy Brown, Alan Buss, Ryan Fisk and Danna Gerken. For more information about the Minnesota Ice, call Kemery at 952-435-1946. The national Web site is at www.quadrugby.com