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Players say film deserves an audience.

Byline: Mark Baker The Register-Guard

`People just don't want to see people in wheelchairs."

That's Seth McBride's theory. As Americans flock to summer movies such as "The 40-year-old Virgin" and "The Wedding Crashers," a film about wheelchair rugby - also known as quad rugby - called "Murderball," isn't faring well at the box office.

"The movie has tanked nationwide," says Ian Jaquis of Oregon Disability Sports. "It's a colossal failure."

"Murderball," which opened in many cities at the end of July, is expected to finally come to Eugene on Friday at the Bijou Art Cinemas. And wheelchair rugby players such as McBride, a University of Oregon student, and Mark Hansen of Eugene, want you to go see it.

"It's a good documentary," says Hansen, a quadriplegic who played for the Eugene wheelchair rugby team, The Oregon Trail, when it existed between 1992 and 1997. "It's a good disability movie, a good sports movie. And it gets you into a whole 'nother world of intense athletic rivalry."

There's not much doubt about that. "Murderball" - the original name given to the sport when it debuted in Canada in the 1970s because of its smashmouth, violent nature - will stun you and affect you. It will move you, anger you and make you laugh. Which is what good films are supposed to do.

It's largely the story of two men, Mark Zupan and Joe Soares, who hate each other's guts, to put it mildly. Zupan, a goateed and heavily tattooed young man of 30, and perhaps the world's best player and the captain of Team USA, was paralyzed when he was 18. He passed out in the back of his best buddy's pickup truck after a party and later was thrown from it when his friend crashed the pickup, not knowing Zupan was in the back.

After years of being the sport's No. 1 player, an aging Soares failed to make the 2000 U.S. Paralympic team and became the coach of the Canadian team. Most in the film view him as a traitor.

The film follows the lives of these two men as they fight to counter stereotypes of wheelchair athletes. The film is "about humanity," says Eugene's Fred Williams, a former player who played with the Eugene team and on Team USA with Zupan. "It's about people fighting and trying to survive."

Hansen, who has played with the Portland Pounders wheelchair rugby team, as McBride does now, and who broke his neck diving into the shallow end of a pool when he was 21, says the film "really develops the fact that these people have complete lives despite their injuries."

They have families and girlfriends, they have social lives and, yes, sex; something the film, which is R-rated, does not shy away from.

Three Portland area men have cameo roles in the film, players Lynn Nelson and Will Groulx, both members of the Portland Pounders and Team USA (which won the gold medal in the 2000 Paralympic Games in Sydney, Australia, and the bronze in Athens, Greece, in 2004), and Pounders' coach Ed Suhr, an assistant with Team USA at the world championships in 2002.

Suhr says most people assume that all quadriplegics are like Christopher Reeve, the late actor, immobile from the neck down. "But a lot of us have functions," he says. In fact, the game, played on a basketball court with four players per side, grades players on a point system from 0.5 to 3.5, depending on how much ability they have with their upper bodies. A team is not allowed to have more than eight points on the floor at once. In other words, you can't have four players who each grade 3.5.

McBride, who leaves for Brazil Friday to compete with Team USA in the World Wheelchair & Amputee Games, says "a lot of people think of quads as people that are really dependent." But that's not true, says McBride, who was paralyzed in a skiing accident at 17.

And "Murderball," if you'll just go see it, will prove that to you, he says.


What: Documentary about wheelchair rugby players

When: Expected to open Friday in Eugene

Where: Bijou Art Cinemas, 492 E. 13th Ave.

Call 686-2458 or go online at www.bijou-cinemas .com


Mark Hansen (left), and Seth McBride play Murderball, also known as wheelchair rugby. "It's a good disability movie, a good sports movie. And it gets you into a whole 'nother world of intense athletic rivalry."- MARK HANSEN, WHEELCHAIR RUGBY PLAYER
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Title Annotation:Entertainment
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 11, 2005
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