By Jim Hagerty
ROCKFORD — The pace was lightning fast and the competition fierce Friday during the 2019 United States Quad Rugby Association (USQRA) National Championship at the UW Health Sports Factory.
The 18 best wheelchair rugby teams in the country are competing for the national crown. The three-day tournament features players who compete all over the world, including at the Paralympic Games.
“These are the best of Division I and Division II wheelchair rugby,” said Nicole Verneuille, tournament director and chief recreation therapist at the Oscar Mike Foundation. “There are also players on some of the teams who play for Team USA.”
Verneuille said the tournament is drawing those who are new to wheelchair rugby, the UW Sports Factory and people with disabilities.
“It’s very important to the Rockford community to have something like this here as a national tournament,” she said. “The Sports Factory, park district and the visitors bureau have been phenomenal. They were a big part of what allowed Oscar Mike to host this event. And the community really has come out in a big way with donations, sponsorship, volunteers–it’s huge for us and it’s huge for Rockford.”
The 2020 and 2021 national championships will also be held in Rockford. The Forest City was awarded the three-year bid at the 2018 tournament in Phoenix.
The United States Quad Rugby Association National Championship is the largest co-ed wheelchair rugby tournament in the United States and comprises 36 games in three days. Eighteen teams from Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, Arizona, and California are playing this weekend.
Hundreds of spectators are expected to attend. Approximately 350 hotel rooms are expected to be booked, and the economic impact on the region for the 2019 tournament should be about $63,000. R.