Putting Themselves In Better Position

PVA Rugby Camp focuses on teamwork, chair positioning

PVA Rugby Camp focuses on teamwork, chair positioning

When Jen Chaillie started playing wheelchair rugby two years ago, she didn’t know much about the sport.

But she sure liked the team mentality, exercise and definitely the hitting.

“It’s just fun. And it’s like a fun, high-paced one [sport]. It’s fun to hit each other and then, with your function, you can do more with the function you have with this sport,” says the 41-year-old Tempe, Ariz., resident who sustained a level C6-C7 spinal-cord injury (SCI) after diving into a swimming pool in May 2011.

But, as she’s learned, there’s plenty of positioning and chair strategy involved.

That’s why Chaillie attended the Friday and Saturday Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) wheelchair rugby camp held at Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center in Phoenix.

A 2.5 classification on the court, Chaillie only counts only as a 2.0 because she’s a female.

Erine Chun, in gray shirt, defends a wheelchair rugby player at Saturday’s Paralyzed Veterans of America wheelchair rugby camp at Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center in Phoenix. (Photo by John Groth).


Besides having the chance to adjust to her new rugby chair — which she received just days before the event — the camp helped her with chair positioning and picking, as well.

Picking the right player and trapping a player with your chair in the right position helps free up teammates for the ball. Although Chaillie already plays for the Ability360 Heat club wheelchair rugby team, she says the camp definitely helped.

“The camp, of course, was key for somebody like me — a developmental player. It breaks everything down and slows it down where I’m at …,” says Chaillie. “The guys have been great about welcoming me and showing me what to do and stuff.”

Chaillie was one of 12 wheelchair rugby players who attended the two-day camp, which focused on fundamentals. Wheelchair rugby players worked on passing, picking and defensive drills, along with trapping and chair alignment skills. Additionally, athletes played in a handful of pickup games to 10 points and did weightlifting.

Ability360 players and former U.S. national team members Scott Hogsett and Ernie Chun served as instructors. The 50-year-old Hogsett, who has a 1.0 classification level but can go down to 0.5 because of age, is a three-time U.S. Paralympic wheelchair rugby player, who won one gold medal (2008 Beijing Paralympics) and two bronze medals (2004 Athens and 2012 London Paralympics) and is also a two-time Worlds gold-medal winner (2006 in Christchurch, Australia, and 2010 in Vancouver, Canada), while the 41-year-old Chun played on two U.S. Parapan American Games teams and two U.S. World Championships teams.

Paralympian and Ability360 Heat wheelchair rugby player Scott Hogsett, with ball, speaks to athletes during a Paralyzed Veterans of America wheelchair rugby camp Saturday at Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center in Phoenix. (Photo by John Groth).


It’s the second PVA clinic the pair have put on in the past two years. And they share the philosophy about the sport — that it’s a team game.

“It’s working together. Wheelchair rugby is a really interesting sport. There’s some really good players, but those players tend to play hero ball. And hero ball is it’s-all-me ball, where I preach all four of you on the court work together to play a specific way, which is more efficient, and to play together where you can play all four quarters the same level,” says Hogsett, who sustained a level C5-C6 SCI in 1992 after being pushed off a patio deck during an argument at a party in Couer d’Alene, Idaho. “You play efficient team ball, but at the same time, I need high rugby IQ, you’ve got to be able to think your way through it. Think while you play and play while you think.”

A 2.0 classification player, Chun says they start with helping players learn better chair positioning.

“A lot of people are not set up properly, and they’re fighting their chair. So, we start with that,” says Chun, who sustained a level C7 incomplete SCI on Dec. 26, 1996, when he rode a big wave and hit his head on a sandbar. “So, once you can at least get dialed closer into your chair, then learning the game becomes a little bit easier because you’re not fighting your chair.”

Chun, who’s known for his high energy and fast pace, says a lot of high-pointers don’t keep their double-team and instead push out of it when they’re trapped. Keeping it, or drawing heat for a little longer than normal, provides a distraction and helps give their teammates a chance to get open with more space.

That’s something Joel Rodriguez kept in mind.

Rodriguez traveled all the way from Florida to attend the clinic. A PVA Florida Gulf Coast Chapter member, Rodriguez hopes to play at the elite level. The 34-year-old WWAR Generals player has tried out for the U.S. wheelchair rugby team twice, but he missed the cut both times. So, he, along with Hogsett and Chun, have been nitpicking his game.

An Army veteran, Rodriguez served from 2009-2016 as an air traffic controller. He sustained a level C5-C6 SCI in a 2014 car accident in Fort Rucker, Ala.

Rodriguez plays as a 1.0 classification on the court. But during the camp, he learned that he’s been trying to do too much outside of his role. Since he has less function, he says his main role should be setting picks. But for his club team, he not only does that, but he scores points, too. He says that needs to change and he needs to return to setting up his teammates more.

“I need to be picking for the right person. Recognizing that faster, which you know when playing with Ernie, he’s always playing at a fast pace. It’s just gotta’ be on time or else the window of success closes rapidly. Finding where that pick is supposed to be set early is obviously better for me,” Rodriguez says. “Scott says I look for the ball too much. I’m focusing on picking rather than looking for the ball sometimes.”

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