When we first heard the words "wheelchair rugby," we wondered how it worked, because rugby has a lot of tackling, pitching, and kicking. However, when we watched the game we realized that it was a mix of a few different sports: basketball, rugby, and hockey.
Wheelchair rugby is played on a standard basketball court. The objective is to get the entire wheelchair, with complete possession of the ball, over the goal line (much like in hockey). Players are allowed to pass the ball to other players on their team, even if it is a forward pass (much like in basketball). Each team must score within forty seconds of when they gain possession of the ball. They can hold the ball for up to ten seconds before they have to either dribble the ball or pass it to a teammate. If they do not pass the ball or dribble it within the allotted time, the other team gets the ball. Only three people can be in the key at one time, and no one player can stay in the key for more than ten seconds. If an offensive player commits this or any other penalty, then they lose possession of the ball. However, if a defensive player commits the penalty, then a point could be awarded to the opposing team or they could get thrown in the penalty box (much like in hockey). A player only has twelve seconds to advance the ball past half court.
The game consists of four, eight-minute periods with each team allotted six time-outs in regulation. If the game goes into overtime, each team gets an additional time-out. The overtime periods are three minutes each and cannot end in a tie, so one game could go on forever, but it would be unlikely to happen.
We had the opportunity to watch the game in action. It was between two teams: a red team and a black team. The red team used a lot of strategy, communication, and passing, while the black team tried to win using speed and brute strength. Complete opposites were chosen to compete against each other. Despite the speed and strength of the black team, the red team was able to keep the game close for the full thirty-two minutes. In the first period, the black team got out to an early lead by beating up the red team and just blowing past them, but the red team was able to come back and tie up the game before the first period was over. At the start of the second period, the black team again came out strong and took the lead. They were able to maintain their lead throughout the period this time, and had momentum going into the half with a two-point lead.
The start of the second half did not look too bright for the red team, but the start is not the part of the game that matters. The red team was able to fight and climb their way back to a fresh game by the end of the third period, as the score was now tied. As the final period started, it was anybody's game. With the red team's strategy and the black team's brute strength and speed, who would arise as the victor? The score was going back and forth throughout the final period; the suspense was incredible right up until the final buzzer sounded. There were only two goals separating the two teams by the end of the game, and it turns out that brains overpowered brawn. That made us happy, because we were rooting for the red team during the match. A game of wheelchair rugby is an experience that you have to see in person!