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Friday, June 9, 2023

Activities & Organizations

Adaptive Athletics to host four-day murderball camp

To view our photo gallery for this event, head here.
Murderball at University of Houston

(From left to right) Joe Jackson, Paul Hopkins, Chuck Aoki. Aoki is returning as a coach from last year’s camp.  |  Courtesy of HHP/Adaptive Athletics

Adaptive Athletics, a student organization dedicated to promoting athletic programs for students with disabilities, is hosting a four-day wheelchair rugby camp from June 26 through 29 at the UH Recreation and Wellness Center.

Beginner, amateur and competitive players ages 14 through 25 with a disability in at least three limbs are eligible. According to the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation, the teams of 12 are co-ed and each player is given a classification based on their physical ability, ranging from .5 to 3.5. The net value of player on the court cannot exceed eight, although for every female player competing, .5 is added to the cap. There is no cap on the classification score of all the players on the team.

“It’s based on their physiology and their disability,” said Department of Health and Human Performance assistant professor Micheal Cottingham. “So if you can imagine someone who has a leg disability and then is also missing (function in) most of their fingers, that person would be classified as a 3.5, so highly functional. A person who is a .5 typically only has shoulder and bicep function.”

“The classification just allows for there to be some consideration for function,” Cottingham added.

A mixture of basketball, rugby and ice hockey, wheelchair rugby, also known as murderball, fields four out of 12 players at once on a regulation basketball court. The object of the game is to score more points than the opposition within four eight‐minute quarters by crossing a regulation volleyball into the enemy goal line. The ball must be dribbled once per 10 seconds in player possession, to be scored within 40 seconds in team possession. Wheelchair contact is not only allowed, but a key strategic aspect of the game.

“The sport is about speed. It’s about speed and maneuverability,” Cottingham said. “I would say that in addition to practicing with the team maybe twice a week, typically three times a week for an elite team, most of the guys are putting in a lot of miles. They will do things like push up parking lots, which is a great sprinting exercise, or they will tie a weight to the back of their chair and will drag it. I think the higher level players are probably pushing 30-40 miles a week.”

Among the three coaches that will be present at the camp is Chuck Aoki, a member of the 2012 U.S. Wheelchair Rugby National Team that competed in Beijing’s 2012 Paralympics. All veterans, the coaches will be instructing at both a introductory and professional level.

“They’re going to start out with fundamentals,” said camp program coordinator and kinesiology-exercise science senior Bernadine Asias. “Eventually, as it evolves, they’ll work on more and more skills. The ones that have experience get to practice, and beginners get to learn. It’s good for even experienced players to go over the basic skills.”

The camp encompasses two courts, one set aside for beginners and amateurs, the other for professional and competitive players. A typical day in the camp will involve a wheelchair rugby session after an early breakfast, a classroom session after lunch, and one more session on the court. Scrimmages will replace sessions on the last day.

“The camp is very much an all-skill camp,” Cottingham said. “We’re going to be running two courts, so the level of skill will vary greatly. We’re going to have at least four athletes and attendants who are on the national development team. They’re the really elite— basically a step down from the national team.”

The Department of Health and Human Performance is trying to arrange a national collegiate level wheelchair rugby team, and the camp is a magnet for drawing both attention from athletes and positive publicity.

“Currently, there is only one university that has a wheelchair rugby program at the collegiate level and that is the University of Arizona,” Cottingham said. “We’d like to be second program in the country to do that. This camp is a mechanism for us to really introduce the sport to athletes who might be interested in going back to college. This camp is an opportunity for us to introduce the University to wheelchair rugby.”

The camp is mostly a product of student effort, with some students even earning a grade in a class for their efforts. Sports management majors netted some managing experience under their belt, and physical therapy school hopefuls will receive hands-on experience, able to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom on the field.

“I give them some direction, but the students have put this camp together,” Cottingham said. “They went and got huge sponsors. They went and managed housing. They went and recruited the athletes. They went and handled the facility management. They went and managed the accessibility for the facilities. They did everything from beginning to end.”

Cottingham notes that statistically, sports improve outlooks on relationships, socializing and physical independence. He also often ties in projects such as the camp with research, but at the end of the day, he is a fan.

“I think the contact is spectacular. The chairs take a lot of the contact, so you don’t actually physically feel the crashing as badly you might expect, but they’re loud, it’s a big booming crash,”  Cottingham said. “Really in the end I’m a spectator, and I love this, I love watching the sport, I’m a fan. I love the strategy and the movement of it, I think that it’s just a great sport to watch. I strongly recommend each student who wants to check out the event to come out and just watch. It’s so much fun.”

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