Rolling into action
International and national teams competed in the first major wheelchair rugby tournament from Friday to Sunday, hosted by the UH Adaptive Athletics program at the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center.
The Murder Ball 2014 Cougar Cup Wheelchair Rugby Tournament was sponsored by TIRR Memorial Hermann and the UH Division of Student Affairs. The Adaptive Athletics program finds recreational sport opportunities for people with disabilities at UH as well as in the community.
“Murder Ball,” known for its intensity and aggressiveness, welcomed more than 70 athletes. Domestic teams included the Chicago Bears, the Denver Harlequins, the San Antonio Steel, the Brooks Bandits from Florida and the Pittsburgh Steelwheelers. International teams included the Calgary Inferno from Canada and the Switzerland Fighting Snakes.
Health and human performance professor and program director Michael Cottingham hopes the program and event will provide a broader knowledge of the benefits of disability sport.
“It’s a fusion of the experience for the students, the experience for the athletes, the students that are helping run and really the research component,” Cottingham said.
“For the past week, we looked at the health benefits of wheelchair rugby. We’ve looked at how individuals perceived athletes with disabilities, and these events allow us to conduct academic research, which helps other programs improve what they’re doing, and it helps us improve things.”
Although several universities nationwide have wheelchair basketball and tennis, the University of Arizona is the only school in the country with wheelchair rugby, and Cottingham hopes UH will be second.
“I think we are quickly becoming better-regarded and known for our program, which is great to get on the national scene so quickly,” Cottingham said. “We’re looking to develop a collegiate program, so this tournament allowed athletes to see the University, visit the University, maybe even enroll at the University while also allowing the University expose the sport.”
Cottingham appreciates the University’s support and believes the program adds diversity to the institution.
“We think this is a really valuable program,” Cottingham said. “It’s not just an ethnicity and race and sexual orientation or other statuses; it’s also disability and that’s another form of diversity. This is just a great opportunity to expose the institution to individuals with disabilities competing in a sport for their peers who are college students, and also educate these students about the University, which we really would love for them to come to.”
Kinesiology senior Fernanda Velasco helped assist the event and appreciated the support from the UH community and the Health and Human Performance department.
“A lot of our players have been athletes before … their accident, so they were really used to being active prior to their disability,” Velasco said. “It’s a great way to stay active. If I’m not mistaken, the No. 1 cause of death for people with disabilities is heart disease, so staying active is a great way to stay healthy.”
Velasco hopes that next year, Adaptive Athletics will get great sponsors, and the program will grow. Her goal would be to expand to wheelchair tennis and wheelchair basketball.
“My goal is to specialize in adaptive sports and do either physical therapy slash recreational therapy, so I can do adaptive sports,” Velasco said. “Hopefully, if we can get our program taken under the University, then I would love to stay and work for the program after graduation.”
Dave Guiry from Calgary Inferno had a great first impression of UH as well for the city of Houston.
“The facility is great, and the transportation has been awesome,” Guiry said. “All in all, it has been a great tournament. The city is awesome.”
Guiry has made numerous friendships through these competitions.
“Events like this are great because they get to meet people from all over the world. You all share somewhat of a same bond,” Guiry said. “We all had accidents; we’re in wheelchairs, so it’s easy to get along. It’s great to meet new people and come out to these events a couple times a year. You get to meet up with guys you haven’t seen in six months; it’s great.”
Students also receive credit to organize the event. In the previous semester, Cottingham’s students prepared for the Cougar Cup, and for the current semester, they will begin coordinating for the next event, which will be the second wheelchair rugby camp this summer.
For more information regarding the program and upcoming wheelchair rugby summer camp, visit the Adaptive Athletics website.