USA Wheelchair Rugby League prepares for World Cup Championship in England, final practices take place in Columbia
COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - In just two months a team of 10 men and one woman are heading to England to compete in the Wheelchair Rugby League World Cup for the very first time, and they have been practicing right here in Columbia.
Almost a year ago, a passionate group of volunteers came together to form the USA Wheelchair Rugby League Team, with some players never playing the game before.
“The energy, and the effort, and the aggression they put into playing the game is really something to see to believe,” Head Coach Geoff Mason said.
A game that might be confused with “Murderball,” but Mason says this is a more structured game, and close to the non-adaptive version of rugby, which he coached at the University Of South Carolina for 18 years before forming this team of 11 players.
Team captain Jeffrey Townsend says the difference between the two is that with this game, players use wheelchairs.
“The wheelchair is a part of your body. If you tip over, you got to be able to get up. I guess the other difference is it’s kind of like flag football. We play with flags on our shoulders and if they get ripped off, then you are tackled, and you have to replace it back on and play the ball again,” Townsend said.
Townsend was recruited by Coach Mason and picked after a tryout of about 25 people.
Players are from all over the nation, and all have different backgrounds.
Townsend says he got his start with adaptive sports playing wheelchair basketball, and his first time touching a rugby ball about 16 months ago.
“From there, it’s kind of history, it’s been a long and lengthy and wonderful career in adaptive sports, and it has taken me all over and made me all types of friends,” he said.
The next stop on Townsend’s map is England, where the team will travel for the Rugby League World Cup in Manchester to face Scotland, Wales, and France, who are the world champions.
“I really think we will be competitive. We have got some really fast players, some skilled players, so we are playing to try and win the world cup,” Coach Mason said.
With this being the team’s first international competition, they may be considered the underdogs, but the team of 11 players will keep training twice a month until the end of October before the World Cup in November.
With the team being a new organization, referees, volunteers, and even other players for a club league are needed.
For more information on how to get involved, visit the USA Wheelchair Rugby League website: https://www.usawhrl.com/.
All practices are at Seven Oaks Park in Irmo and are open to the public.
The team is also accepting donations for travel and accommodations, here.
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