'I'm a .5." Speaking is Paul Richardson, president of San Diego Wheelchair Athletic Association and a veteran player for the San Diego Bushwackers quad rugby team.
I've called to get his review of the documentary Murderball, which opens Friday at Hillcrest Cinema on Fifth Avenue. Murderball is the best movie I've seen this year.
You'll need two infobits before we proceed. One: Murderball is, on the surface, a documentary about two quad rugby teams who wind up playing each other at the 2004 Athens Paralympics. Two: According to the United States Quad Rugby Association website, "[Quad rugby] Players must have a combination of upper and lower extremity impairment.... Players are given a classification number...ranging from 0.5--3.5. The 0.5 player has the greatest impairment and is comparable to a C5 quadriplegic...the 3.5 player has the least impairment and is similar to a C7-8 incomplete quadriplegic.... Four players from each team are allowed on the court at a time. Classifications of the four players on the court must total no more than 8.0 points at one time."
Which brings us back to Paul Richardson. I ask, "What is your injury?"
"March '85. I was a passenger in a car accident. C-5 spinal-cord injury. I can move my arms, but I don't have normal hand function or finger function. I have my shoulders and biceps and some extension on my wrists, but that's pretty much about it."
"How long have you been playing?"
"I started in '90 or '91. In Philly. Philly had the big spinal-cord rehab hospital. I was in for some follow-up and I ran into a guy who was injured when I was injured. He told me about the game. That was it; I went out for practice."
"Tell me about the first day."
"It was weird. My rugby chair was a folding chair with a piece of two-by-four duct-taped to it," Richardson laughs. "Most wheelchair sports are boring. This is the only one where you can smash into people and knock them out of their chairs. I rarely knock anyone out of their chair because I'm a low-pointer, but on the rare occasions I do, I can't help but laugh my ass off."
"I assume you've seen Murderball?"
Richardson says, "I've seen bits and pieces of it. Some San Diego players are in the movie."
"Dana Shapiro [Murderball co-director] was an editor for Spin magazine. He saw an article about [quad] rugby in Phoenix. He went down and checked it out and then got some backing. I don't think he had any set plans. His focus was on the [quad rugby] U.S. National Team and going to Athens."
"How did the San Diego players find their way into the film?"
"Well Dean [Maccabe] plays for our local team," Richardson says. "Andy [Cohn] and Scott [Hogsett] are in Phoenix [both players are featured in the movie], and we play those guys a lot. Ian Chan plays for the Canadian team in the movie. There's a lot of footage of him. He also plays for our team.
"Joe Soares coached us two years ago. [Soares has a lead part in the film. He played in 13 consecutive national championships, at one time was the dominant player in the game. He was cut from the USA team and moved north to coach Team Canada, which made him a traitor in the eyes of his former teammates. The movie ends with Soares's Canadian National Team playing the U.S. National Team at the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.]
Seems like half the cast is connected to San Diego. I ask about the Bushwackers' schedule.
"Occasionally, we'll play an East Coast team, but, generally, we're going places where the flights are reasonably cheap or we can drive. We don't have a big budget to travel to tournaments. We may only play a couple of local tournaments a year. We used to go to five tournaments a year and practice once or twice a week, but you can imagine ten players flying to Portland or Vancouver. That's 40 grand right there."
"Forty grand is nothing."
"There used to be four teams in Southern California," Richardson says. "This year there may only be one."
"This movie has got to help you."
"Yeah." Silence. "We've started our own non-profit. It's not just for our team, but any quad rugby team or any wheelchair sport. We don't want to be dependant on rehab hospitals. There are enough players in San Diego to field three rugby teams. If we're able to work together and raise $50,000, $100,000, we could split the money up evenly and play.
"I was at a scrimmage with a bunch of guys up in Oceanside on Sunday. We're talking about who we're going to play for this year. Nobody knows if they're going to be on a team, because funding is not there."
Readers wishing to donate time or money to quad rugby in San Diego can contact Paul Richardson at 619-384-2688, or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop by www.sdwaa.org