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Monday, Nov 24, 2014

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Teams square off Saturday, March 3, at Ping Center in the Four-Play! Quad Rugby Tournament.

Photographer: Heather Haynes

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Teams square off Saturday, March 3, at Ping Center in the Four-Play! Quad Rugby Tournament.

Photographer: Heather Haynes

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Four-Play Quad Rugby Tournament raises thousands for charity


Ohio University’s Ping Center rocked with thunderclaps on Saturday. Not from the weather, but from metal-on-metal collisions from, of all things, a philanthropic event.

Organized by physical therapy students in the College of Health Sciences and Professions, the fifth annual Four-Play Quad Rugby Tournament raised $6,500 for the Buckeye Blitz semiprofessional team out of Columbus. That number will grow once late-registering teams and a Max and Erma’s fund-raiser are added. And the total doesn’t reflect the product donations of sponsors such as Kenda Tires, which donated $3,000 in wheelchair tires.

For the Blitz, the funds are key to remaining financially viable in a sport where expenses range from obvious and costly — $5,000 to 6,000 for a custom-made rugby wheelchair — to overlooked yet constant — the team goes through boxes of tires and tape during a season.

“This fund-raiser is without a doubt the biggest we have,” said Jake Jordan, a Buckeye Blitz player who spent the day carving through opposing defenses with his blazing speed. “It’s phenomenal that the students here can put something like this together. It’s expensive to play rugby.”

The genesis of the tournament came when a group of physical therapy students formed a bond with a patient who had physical disabilities.

The man had played sports in the past and wanted to get back in athletics, but the costs were too steep. The students had participated in a pay-for-play quad rugby event in Columbus, and decided to bring the experience to Athens to help him. In the years since, the tournament has grown from a small event in the cramped Grover Center Gym to one that draws hundreds of spectators to Ping Center.

Petra Williams, assistant professor of physical therapy and tournament adviser, has been involved with the event since its inception. To her, the leaps forward have been astounding.

“To know five years ago that it would be like this, it’s just beyond my wildest hopes,” Williams said. “It’s just really great to watch how (the students) have really taken ownership of it.”

The tournament pits a team of four to six local players against the Buckeye Blitz, with the Blitz often playing with one player fewer, to keep things somewhat competitive. Even so, the semi-pros coast to win after win — they have never lost in the event’s history — and give opponents the full experience of bone-rattling hits.

“Each team gets to play 20 minutes to a half-hour against the Buckeye Blitz,” tournament president Justin Carr said. “By the time you’re done, you are exhausted, and (Blitz players) are playing all day long. You use muscles that you haven’t for a long time.”

Because of the hands-on nature of the event, participants come away with a greater understanding of how talented these athletes are. It builds a bridge between those who have physical disabilities and those who don’t.

 “Not a lot of people have much experience with spinal-cord injury patients on a regular basis, said Nick Bobinger, physical therapy student and event vice president. “If they see someone in a wheelchair they might just make the assumption that they’re not athletic.”

Putting on philanthropic events is nothing new to the Physical Therapy program. Students also host a pro-bono clinic and the Run on the Ridges fund-raiser. Making a difference in the community are at the core of the program’s mission.

“(Service is) a key component of who we are,” Williams said. “It is becoming a larger and larger part of our curriculum in an unspoken way, not just through this event.”

Not just a service project, the tournament is also a way to prepare students for their future professions.

“I think it gets you comfortable communicating with the patient and becoming aware of what is meaningful to them,” Bobinger, the physical therapy student, said. “We’re one of few professions that gets to take the time to sit down with our patients and address what is affecting them, what their goals are and what needs to be done. Within our profession, we get the chance to form a good bond with our patients.”

At the end of the day, giving back to the community has never looked so fun.

“It really is the highlight of our year,” the Blitz’s Jordan said.

For more information about the tournament, including a complete list of community sponsors, go online to www.ohio.edu/orgs/quadrugby.