Quad Rugby FAQ

Questions frequently asked by rugby players who want to know what a bunch of guys in wheelchairs have done to their game.

By Tom Hamill

(Tom Hamill broke his neck propping for Morris RFC in 1985. He now plays quad rugby for the Philadelphia Rebels. Some of his reflections on all types of rugby will appear. This article is adapted from an article that originally appeared in the Morris Rugby newsletter, the Lion's Roar.)


Q. What is quad rugby?

A. Quad rugby is a sport developed by and for athletes with an upper body impairment, played in wheelchairs.


Q. How do you push the chairs on grass?

A. We play on a basketball court.


Q. How is it played?

A. Teams are made up of four players, with unlimited substitution available. A volleyball is carried, passed or batted with the object of scoring by carrying the ball over the endline of the 20 meter goal. A ball carrier must pass or bounce the ball every ten seconds. Chair to chair contact is encouraged, with or away from the ball.


Q. Are there any penalties?

A. An opposing player cannot be spun from behind the rear axle and body to body contact is not allowed. There are charging and pushing penalties on the books, but they are rarely called.


Q. How do you (scrum)(ruck)(do line outs)(kick off)?

A. The sport was actually developed by Canadians as a combination of hockey, basketball and generic football. Inbounding is done like basketball, all restarts, except for an opening jump, are done by inbounding. Rucks are formed when a ball carrier is hit by one or more opposing players, even though they aren't called rucks. Oh, by the way, we can throw the ball forward.


Q. Then why do you call it rugby?

A. The sport was originally called murderball. When initially brought to the US, the name was changed to rugby because it was a more athletic name that could be sold to sponsors and medical professionals. Calling it quad rugby, rather than wheelchair rugby, was a play upon "sevens" and "fifteens."


Q. Is there any connection between rugby football and quad rugby?

A. USA Rugby, having its own growing pains, doesn't have any time for quad rugby. In fact, our entree to the Paralympics had to come through team handball. In New Zealand, Australia and England, there is much more contact between the two codes. Several US clubs work with their local quad counterparts to some level. One of the Atlanta teams used to do a "Battle of the Chairs" with the quad rugby team. The Colorado team has supported the Colorado quad rugby team. Morris used to support the now defunct New Jersey team with shirts and a donation from the Boat Party.


Q. Are the players ex-rugby footballers?

A. A few are. Ed Suhr, the USQRA President, played for Army and his brother plays for Rockaway. There are a couple of other American players who broke their necks playing rugby, but most are car accidents and diving accidents. Also, a lot of players have disabilities other than spinal cord injuries, such as amputees, CP and post polio. In New Zealand, half of the national team broke their necks playing rugby football.


Q. Are there positions?

A. Players have roles based upon their classification. Each player is classified from .5 (least mobile) to 3.5 (most mobile) based upon their working muscles. (I'm a 1.) A team may only put 8 points on the floor. Lower point players need to set up the play by screening or picking so that higher point players have more room to carry the ball. In other words, I'm still a front row.


Q. I hear you traveled to North Carolina and Florida; why so far?

A. There are only 40 teams in the country, and we can't count on northeast teams to host tournaments. Therefore, we go where the games are.


Q. Do you have rugby parties?

A. The standard used to be to hold a banquet at tournaments, but it's too expensive. There generally aren't organized parties, but basically, rugby players are rugby players. Our captain, Jim, passed out and fell out of his chair in the parking lot at Sectionals. And there was Betty at the Ale House in Sarasota. (Betty looked like a librarian from Love, American Style. She adopted my team one night and was prepared to take us home - or something - until her body guard, paid for by her fiancée, rescued her. As the bumper sticker says, "Chicks dig us . . .")

Q. Should our team start a quad rugby program?

A. The pool of potential quad athletes is small. That's why the Jersey team in Hackensack went under. Some of the best local players were already going to Long Island, where Veteran's Association funding is incredible. An option would be to start a regional low pointers program. There are several tournaments for no player greater than 1.5, total no more than 3.5. Most of the teams at these tournaments are regional. Otherwise see if there's a program in the area. Make the players honorary team members, there are great opportunities for joint fund raising and positive marketing.


Q. Where can I see quad rugby?

A. Check out the calendar at www.quadrugby.com.


Q. By the way, how'd the Rebels do at Sectionals?

A. Ohhhh, five and oh. (In Morris Rugby's first season, they were the Morris Mice, finishing 0-8-2. When asked about their record the previous season they would respond, "Ohhh, (pause), eight and two.)