Yesterday, ParaSport news interviewed Hereford Harriers Chairman Adam Button about his wheelchair rugby league club, the Hereford Harriers, and why everyone should get involved with the sport. Amongst the reasons he espouses are that the sport is open to everyone: men, women, boys, girls, those with disabilities and those without. There are even opportunities for people to get paid to play.
ParaSport News: What is the difference between wheelchair rugby league and wheelchair rugby of the murderball kind?
Adam Button: Wheelchair Rugby league (RFL) is for both able bodied and disabled players and uses tags on the sleeves of the shirts, which you pull off in play to make a “Tackle” once 6 tackles have been made, the ball is turned over to the opposition. Wheelchair Rugby League is played in basketball wheelchairs, so this makes it a cheaper sport for most people as the Wheelchair Murderball (RFU) chairs cost upwards of £5,000. The other main difference is that in order to compete in either national or international teams in Murderball, you have to be severely disabled, having either a malfunction in all limbs, be a paraplegic or a tetraplegic. With Wheelchair RFL you can have 2 able bodied players on the pitch at any one time alongside 3 disabled players, in order to classify for Wheelchair RFL, ANY disability which is classifiable by the IPC is permitted, so in my case, I have spinal degeneration in Thoacic and Lumbar spine and arthritis in knees – so I classify as a disabled player. Equally, with Murderball, amputees do not qualify, where as in Wheelchair Rfl they do.
ParaSport News: I know the sport is mixed gendered. I didn’t realize able-bodied players could participate. Is this only on the club level in Great Britain? How does it work in competitions?
Adam Button: In ALL national and international teams, you are allowed 2 able bodied players on pitch at any one time alongside 3 disabled players.
Any disability that is classifiable by the IPC is permitted, so even permanent ligament damage and arthritis qualify.
ParaSport News: Do the Hereford Harriers compete for sports people with people from other disability sports like boccia, wheelchair basketball or swimming? Or do you look more for new people who have never been involved with sport?
Adam Button: I wouldn’t say we compete with other sports, more work in tandem with them, so for example, our season for Wheelchair RFL is April to September, Basketball is September to April, so we do get a lot of basketball players play Wheelchair RFL, we also like to see injured rugby players join us as well as other sports like Hockey,Football, etc when they can no longer play the standing game.
ParaSport News: What competition do you have coming up? How well has the club done in the past at this competition?
Adam Button: Our club is fairly new so we have yet to play in National League, but we will be doing so next year, starting April 2015. We do have a number of players that have played Wheelchair RFL for a while and also another version called Wheelchair 7’s both Nationally and Internationally.
The Battle of Britain tournament in November is between 4 clubs, 3 of which are in the national league already and Hereford, who is going into national league. The tournament is being staged to promote the sport and also as a two day festival in the off season as practice for the teams, who come from the 4 corners of Britain, Liverpool, Swindon, Hereford and Gravesend, hence the title. The tournament is hopefully going to be televised and will be covered on radio and in newspapers nationwide.
Currently, there are 12 teams in the national league, from as far north as Dundee right down to Gravesend in Kent.
ParaSport News: Who are some of your current players? What do they do when not playing? Any of them have aspirations to play at the next level?
Adam Button, 38, Chairman of the club – Adam has played wheelchair basketball on and off for 12 years following a motorcycle accident that left him with a broken knee (in 3 pieces) and right leg with multiple fractures, following this initial injury, over the years, Adam has had spinal degeneration in 6 discs and two herniated discs in his Thoracic and Lumbar spine as well as Osteoarthritis. Adam went for a trial in Wheelchair Rugby 7’s last year and has played Wheelchair Rugby, both league and 7’s since that. Adam has competed internationally for Wales in 7’s and is currently under selection for the Welsh international RFL squad.
Huw Chance, 40, Player – Huw was approached back in the spring of 2014 by Adam in Hereford whilst he was out shopping with his family and has also played Wheelchair 7’s alongside Adam for Wales in June 2014 at the international in Liverpool. Huw is also under selection process for Wheelchair RFL for the Wales International squad presently.
Tom Emmett, 25, Player – Tom is a life long wheelchair basketball player, having played the sport for well over 15 years when he was introduced to Basketball at the National Star College near Gloucester. Since the demise of the club in Hereford, Tom has joined Cardiff Celts for Wheelchair Basketball, but also plays Wheelchair RFL in Hereford with Adam and Huw.
Chris Probert, 42, Player – Chris is a lifelong friend of Huw and is completely able-bodied. Chris has played Tag Standing Rugby as part of the Nokia corporate team for many years. Chris was introduced to the sport and had his interest sparked at the International Wheelchair 7’s in Liverpool in June, since then he has taken on the role of player coach and is looking forward to his first league season in 2015.
Both Adam and Huw are international Wheelchair Rugby players in 7’s and are currently undergoing selection trials for Wheelchair RFL for Wales International Squad to compete at the Home Nations, Six Nations and Rugby World Cup tournaments. The pathways to further sporting achievement are worldwide, as in 2017, the Rugby World Cup will be held in Sydney, Australia and will be attended by Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland, Malta, Italy, France and Australia.
The sport of Wheelchair RFL is recognised worldwide and France, Italy and Australia have paying player spots – Yes, you can actually get paid to play!
ParaSport News: What are some reasons that locals should get involved with the club? How much of a commitment do they need to make in order to join?
Adam Button: The sport of Wheelchair RFL is the ONLY sport that allows totally mixed teams, including both able and disabled people side by side, as well as men and women. We see a huge amount of ex-forces players in the various teams as they are used to the banter and team spirit that exudes from Wheelchair RFL, for e.g. Assistant England coach and coach for Swindon St George WRFL club is Tony Ellis, an Ex Paratrooper.
The sport is not as hard on players as Murderball – the crash, bang, whollop that people saw in the Paralympics – RFL is totally different, it is much faster, with less contact (you have to grab a tag rather than smash a player) and is longer halves – it is played with 40 minute halves. it is essentially Tag Rugby on wheels.
Other reasons to get involved is if you want to get fit or take part in sport after an injury has stopped you playing normal rugby. All our sessions are totally free – so in effect we are a very cost effective way of keeping trim.
We ask that our players have the drive and the commitment to turn up to training once a week, for two hours and give it their all. We will do the rest. 14-114, man, woman, disabled, non-disabled are all welcome!
We arrange friendly competitions throughout the year to keep the players on their toes and also for the thrill of it and have plenty of clubs for away matches and road trips. We ask that players arrange their own transport for themselves and if we stay away, a hotel room, the club does buy the meals.
For league registration in 2015, there is a charge per player registered, but this is only between £30 and £40 (Yet to be confirmed this year by the RFL)
We are totally voluntary staffed and are totally funded from grants and donations – so it costs our players very little. We provide wheelchairs, shirts, tags, all the equipment, the coaches and on occasions cake for half time!
The final reason is that it is a huge amount of fun! we have a great laugh playing and training and the Wheelchair RFL world is like a big family, no one cares about your disability or lack of a disability – we just play rugby and have fun with it. I personally have never been asked about my disability at any Wheelchair RFL match / practice / club – its just not a concern, we’re just people who play a sport like any other.