The USA Wheelchair Rugby team will host a joint training camp and friendly match against IWRF World Champion Australia at Lakeshore Foundation, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Training Site in Birmingham, Ala., Oct. 7-10.
USA Wheelchair Rugby Head Coach James Gumbert will use the training camp as preparation for the Olympic qualifying cycle for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Summer Games. In years prior, Gumbert’s team had less training before a Paralympic cycle.
“In looking at how we have traditionally done our international year, what we’ve done is usually ended after a major competition,” the head coach said. “For us to be able to squeeze this in is different and new for us. This gives us another chance to evaluate talent for the next two years.”
The team will travel to Toronto next year for the Parapan American Games, the next major wheelchair rugby tournament and opportunity for the team to qualify for Rio. Wheelchair rugby was not played at the Guadalajara 2011 event.
The U.S. has not been on the outside looking in very often in its history on the court, with two gold medals and two bronze medals from Paralympic Games and five golds and a set of silver and bronze medals from IWRF World Championships. The bronze was earned earlier this year in Denmark, where Australia went 7-0 in winning gold at Stadium Arena Fyn. The U.S. lost to finalist Canada in overtime in the crossover match.
“For us, third place is an utter failure,” Gumbert said. “For some countries, that may be their programme. To have this opportunity to get back on the court as quick as we are is a gift.
“The guys are very, very motivated. We sat down and told them, ‘Here’s the deal: the only thing that’s going to make a loss feel better is to go out and get a win.’ They want to go against the best, and Australia’s here and No. 1.”
Nine of the athletes in Odensk will attend the camp, along with CJ Brown (2.0) and Lee Ferdette (1.0). Chuck Aoki (3.0) and Joe Delagrave (2.0), who were both named the best player in their classification at the World Championships, have taken on bigger responsibilities as experienced veterans, despite being 23 and 29, respectively.
“Joe obviously stepped into that leadership role and really embraced it,” Gumbert said. “The guys looked up to him. He has a great sports background even before he was in a chair, and to now have him assume that role is very rewarding as a coach.”
Gumbert said the team has seen its average age drop from early 30s to mid-20s since 2005, a byproduct of the work being done with the development team, Team Force, and the identification of emerging athletes in the domestic league.
“You hope that allows these guys that we’ve already put some good investment in will start to become a little bit more seasoned and the production level we hope to see from them will continue to elevate. At this moment, I would say I’d be surprised if more than half to three-quarters of these guys will be competing for these sports for Rio in the next two years.”
The team will conduct training sessions, team video sessions, and a set of five scrimmages against the Steelers.
USA Wheelchair Rugby | Camp Roster
Chuck Aoki 3.0
Chance Sumner 3.0
Josh Wheeler 2.5
CJ Brown 2.0
Ernie Chunn 2.0
Joe Delagrave 2.0
Derrick Helton 2.0
Chuck Melton 2.0
Chan Cohn 1.0
Lee Ferdette 1.0
Jason Regier .5
USA Wheelchair Rugby v Australia Steelers | Match Schedule
Tuesday, October 7 – 7:00 P.M. CT
Wednesday, October 8 – 10:00 A.M. CT
Wednesday, October 8 – 4:00 P.M. CT
Thursday, October 9 – 7:00 P.M. CT
Friday, October 10 – 7:00 P.M. CT