The Northridge Knights and Kings hosted the United States Quadriplegic Rugby
Pacific Sectional Tournament, a three -day event at CSUN that ran Friday through Sunday.
Northridge’s premier team, the Kings, came in third, securing their chance to compete in the upcoming division one national championship in Louisville, Ky. April 10-14. The Knights, Northridge’s developmental team, finished seventh.
Eight teams gathered at Redwood Hall over the weekend to compete to qualify for the championship. Despite not having practiced for three weeks, the Kings were satisfied with their position. The Chatsworth park gym where, both teams practice, has been closed due to the discovery of lead on the premises.
“Third place is pretty good, considering we thought we would come in fourth,” said Mike DeYoung, a senior urban planning and studies major at CSUN. “Overall, with no practice it worked out and our team’s talent made up for the lost time.”
DeYoung has been playing with the team for four and a half years and has been team captain for the past two. He said their biggest challenge this weekend was playing the Portland Pounders who took first place on Sunday.
“The Portland Pounders won the tournament and have been a tough team to beat for years,” DeYoung said. “They probably have the most talented group of players. All of their starters are on the national Paralympics team.”
DeYoung made the U.S.A. developmental team this year and recently competed against Canada and Florida. He also placed first for individual performance on Sunday.
Upon the addition of players from Canada and San Jose, the Northridge Knights acquired a second team, the Kings. Both teams are coached by Mike Doom.
“We could be better with practice, but they are a good team,” Doom said. “We were twelfth in the nation two years ago and sixth last year. I’ve been coaching them since 1991. I design medical equipment, and at the time I was designing wheelchairs. I started hanging around with the guys to see what they could do and what they needed to be able to do. Their former coach quit and I started from there.”
Doom recruits players through the Northridge Hospital’s rehabilitation center. Current players go to support groups and encourage people who are getting out of rehab. Doom said after watching the team play it’s hard not to get hooked.
“Our team gives people a new lease on life,” Doom said. “At first a lot of people don’t want to do it, but after a couple of months it’s like a pick-me-up. For the first 10 years, I used my chair to coach. I wanted to understand what the guys deal with when they are on the court.”
Doom said the best part of his job after all these years is winning.
Quad Rugby is an intense, full-contact wheelchair sport high on energy, with a competitive edge. The game is played on a modified basketball court and is likened to the aggressiveness of hockey. To be at the top of one’s game takes dedication and a financial investment.
“You need a good chair and should be in good shape. Exercise is not enough. Some guys train for five hours a day pushing around. The starting price for a chair is $3,000 and go upwards to $6000. Wheels are $200-$600 each, depending on the wheel. Gloves are about $10-$15 and players go through one pair a game,” Doom said.
Introduced as the quadriplegic counterpart to wheelchair basketball, quad rugby, also known as Murderball or Wheelchair Rugby, made its way to the United States in 1981. Since its debut, there are currently 45 organized teams in the U.S. and approximately 20 international teams. Film directors, Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, released a documentary in 2005, Murderball, that captures the aggressiveness of the sport.
In order to participate, players must be 18 years of age and have upper and lower extremity impairment. They are then given classification numbers from 0.5-3.5. Players classified 0.5 have the greatest impairment and the 3.5 player has the least. These ratings are crucial to the game as each team can only have four players on the court, totaling no more than eight points. Both males and females are encouraged to play and the classification system eliminates any possibility for gender advantages.
“I’m rated the lowest — 0.5 on a scale of 0.5 – 3.5,” DeYoung said. “Players who have broken their neck break it in different parts. Mine was lower C5 and C6 (cervical level of spinal injury). Everybody has equal opportunity for play time. I play defense, so I don’t really handle the ball. I set up the picker which is usually a higher level player.”
The team travels nationwide and internationally, competing in tournaments. This, as described by DeYoung and Doom, is a great vehicle for camaraderie.
The three-day event was the result of USQRA’s collaboration with CSUN’s Department of Kinesiology, Center on Disabilities, Matador Athletics, A.S. Recreation, and Northridge Hospital.
“We heard about the tournament from Mike and went from there,” said professor Elizabeth Slator of the kinesiology department. “We are pleased to have the opportunity to host this event. CSUN would like to build a relationship with Paralympics sports.”