By Jessica Alfrey
You could call Brett Harbage your average, all-American guy. At 33, he's been married for four years to his college sweetheart. Together they have a 17-month-old daughter. But there's something that sets Harbage apart: He's the fiercely competitive captain of the Buckeye Blitz, Ohio's only quad rugby team.
Harbage, who's also coordinator of the Americans with Disabilities Act for the Ohio Secretary of State's Office, brought his team to Ohio University's Grover Center Gymnasium this past weekend to trade paint with local teams in the second annual Four Play event, a pay-to-play quad rugby tournament and fundraiser organized by the Four Play! Quad Rugby student organization on campus.
Harbage hopes the event's more than 100 participants and dozens of spectators took away a message: "There are people with disabilities who are active in life and are looking for competitive things to do. (Quad rugby is) an outlet. It's not only a chance to be active, but to ... support other guys as well."
The message wasn't lost on participants such as Stephanie Durbin, a third-year physical therapy student who took part in the event for the second time.
"I have so much fun at this event," Durbin said. "Being in PT, I have a special place in my heart for this, and I enjoy seeing everyone get involved."
The event raised about $2,900 for the Buckeye Blitz, which will used the funds toward the purchase of a reinforced wheelchair for the rough-and-tumble game. The wheelchairs run about $4,500 apiece.
The idea for the tournament was sparked two years ago when Petra Williams, assistant professor of physical therapy, played clips of the documentary film "Murderball" in her cultural competency class. Students were inspired to organize the first tournament last year after Blitz player Jeremy Edgar came to class to help the students learn about spinal injuries.
The tournament allows groups of four to six players to register for a $75 fee. Participants get 30 minutes of court time against several Buckeye Blitz players and souvenir T-shirts.
Andrea Klusman, a physical therapy student who helped organize this year's event, said a variety of community and campus groups signed up this year, including firefighters, police officers, faculty members and resident assistants. Participating teams filled 26 of the 28 spots available.
Harbage, who came with three other Blitz members to play in the tournament, was injured in an ATV accident at age 17. He heard about quadriplegic rugby through a rehab therapist who doubled as a rugby coach. Harbage became a lifelong fan of the sport during his years at Wright State University in Dayton. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in business in 2000, then played for three years with a team of older men, who eventually lost interest and disbanded.
Still aching for a team, he and a friend started the Blitz three years ago, recruiting new members via relationships with hospitals and rehab centers. In addition to practicing every Sunday, the Blitz goes to half a dozen tournaments in surrounding states each year and attends charity events, such as Four Play.
Klusman hopes participants came away with a lasting impression of Harbage and his fellow players: "These people are neither heroes nor fragile beings," she said. "They're just like everybody else."