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Wheelchair Rugby Grows in Popularity

Apr 07, 2016 02:38PM ● Published by Kelly Cannon

By Kelly Cannon | kelly@mycityjournals.com

Midvale - Every Friday and Saturday, loud bangs and shouts can be heard from one of the basketball courts at Copperview Recreation Center. While the noise may seem like cause for alarm, it’s just Scorpion practice. The Paralympic wheelchair rugby team meets twice a week in preparation for various tournaments they compete in throughout the year. 

The Scorpions have been an official team affiliated with Salt Lake County for eight years and have been sponsored by the county for the past five years. The sport of wheelchair rugby is an adaptation of the traditional game of rugby. Players in modified wheelchairs pass a ball back and forth while trying to cross the goal line. The opposing team tries to stop them by blocking them or even ramming into their wheelchairs. 

Susie Schroer, the manager of the team, explained that the sport is for players with specific injuries. 

“It’s for people with high-level spinal cord injury who have the impairment of four limbs,” Schroer said. 

She explained that while wheelchair basketball requires players to have high function and coordination in their arms, wheelchair rugby does not require such fine motor skills in the arms. 

Teams consist of four players on the court at a time. Each player is given a classification assigned to them by a physical therapist or occupational therapist and a representative of the sport. These classifications are from 0.5 to 3.5 and are assigned based upon the ability and functionality of the player. The classification of the players on a team can only add up to eight. This creates a more level playing field. 

A game consists of four eight-minute quarters. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins. 

The Scorpions practice every Friday and Saturday and travel to various tournaments around the country. In April, the team is traveling to Boise to compete in a tournament. 

The sponsorship from Salt Lake County is extremely helpful for the team not only to help pay for travel expenses but also to help purchase the modified wheelchairs used in competition. The chairs range from $2,500 to $5,000. The Scorpions have extra chairs available for those interested in trying the sport.

“No one is going to [pay] that much just to try out a sport,” Schroer said. 

Rick Werry of Richfield is one of the newest members of the team. He saw a flyer for the team and thought it would be cool to try.

“I showed up and I was hooked from the first practice,” Werry said.

Werry said he loves the competitive nature of the sport plus its intense physicality. He’s only been playing for over a year.

“You could tell I was the newbie, but I’ve gotten better,” he said. 

According to Werry, the most important part of the game is speed.

“If you’re fast, you’re great,” Werry said. “If you’re slow, you’ve got to get fast.”

Levi Bohon has been playing wheelchair rugby for the past eight years. After he broke his neck, he became a C6-7 quad-tetraplegic. He began recreational therapy but didn’t have the best relationship with his therapist. He wanted to do more. Bohon said he never hit a state of depression but rather was very thankful for the support friends and family gave him.

“I felt I’ve got to show I can make it back,” Bohon said.

He initially didn’t like the idea of playing rugby but was persuaded to play as a form of exercise. He met other guys who had similar injuries and had been injured for much longer. He met players who were very talented in the sport.

“These guys were incredible,” Bohon said. “They were so fast.”

When Bohon started playing, he said he wasn’t used to the high-impact aspects of the sport. But once he got used to the game, he started going regularly.

“I fell in love with it,” Bohon said. “I’ve been doing it every year for eight years.”

Bohon said his favorite aspect of the game is the camaraderie between the players. 

“I’ve met people through rugby who are now some of my best friends,” Bohon said. 

Being able to meet people with similar challenges is also a huge benefit for Bohon.

“You meet these guys and they have ways to figure things out,” Bohon said. 

The hardest part of learning to play was building up stamina. After his injury, Bohon was in a hospital bed for two weeks straight, causing his muscles to atrophy. 

“I could go up and down the court but then I had to rest,” Bohon said. 

Bohon is now one of the leaders on the team, working to build up not only the team but also the sport. 

“This is where it’s at for us,” Bohon said. 

For more information, email sschroer@slco.org or call 385-468-1956.  

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