East Coast Cripplers ‘are athletes first’

Published: October 28, 2012  |  Source: hamptonroads.com
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VIRGINIA BEACH – Eric Ingram gives persons with quadriplegia a bad name – and likes it that way.

A Stickum-smeared, cheerful menace, Ingram is an East Coast Crippler, looking to stick it to the guy whose spine was snapped in a car accident or the war veteran whose injuries made her a triple amputee, should they block his way to the goal.

Quad rugby is an unforgiving sport, and Ingram, whose Internet moniker is Murderball, lives for it. So, too, do his East Coast Crippler teammates, all of whom have found the rough and tumble game a counterpoint to the negative perceptions of disabilities.

“People need to know that we are athletes first,” said Ingram, 22. “This is a sport.”

According to the U.S. Quad Rugby Association, players must either have or have some combination of: a spinal cord injury affecting at least three limbs; amputation in four extremities; neurological impairment in four limbs; or physical impairments in four limbs.

Wheelchairs are designed for offensive or defensive positions, and goals are scored by moving the ball across goal lines.

To mark Disability History and Awareness Month, Kemps Landing Magnet School hosted the Cripplers for an exhibition match. School Principal Charles Foster said the month presents a chance to tap into students’ empathy in order to educate them on a subject not always covered in the curriculum.

“Anytime we can educate our students about the uniqueness and the ‘exceptional’ capabilities of each and every person, I want to make the most of the opportunity.”

Special education advisory committee member Ping Camano said Kemps Landing has marked disability month for three years, hosting East Coast Cripplers and Sun Wheelers basketball teams.

“It’s been on our school marquee and in our hallways; we have morning announcements on disabilities; we’re participating in the People First Language book mark contest; and we’ve shown a video on disability,” she said. “Our principal has embraced the message.”

But this day, athletic endeavors ruled the school. Spinning and sprinting in customized wheelchairs that set players back an easy $5,000 each, four Cripplers scrimmaged on the school basketball court, before fielding questions.

Sixth-grader Hope Berns, 12, asked for more details on rules of play.

“It was fun to watch,” she said afterward, noting that her older brother has a disability. “Just because a person has physical limitations, it doesn’t mean they aren’t able to do things like play sports.”

Crippler Scott Hildebrant was asked how quickly he can sprint the length of a basketball court.

“I ain’t getting up to no warp speed,” he joked, pointing out that most players clock in well under 20 seconds, but that Ingram is the fastest. Hildebrant also explained that both his gloves and modified wheels are coated with Stickum – a sticky adhesive substance – to optimize control.

Ingram said the Cripplers won the 2011 Atlantic Sectionals but have had a rebuilding year.

“We lost our gym where we practiced,” Ingram said, noting they could use help in finding a practice locale. “And we’re in need of new players, male or female, as long as they play to win.”

By Irene Bowers
Virginian-Pilot correspondent