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Full-contact fundraiser in OCC gym

October 16, 2005|By By Elia Powers

Wheelchair rugby event raises money for disabled students at Orange Coast College.Darrell Ray maneuvered his way through the lobby of Orange Coast College's Peterson Gymnasium moments before a wheelchair rugby exhibition was set to begin on Saturday.

"I'm in the mood to hit somebody today," Ray hollered to his friends.

And he wasn't even playing in the game.

When the opening buzzer sounded, Ray provided the play-by-play as eight athletes zigzagged across the basketball court and smashed into each other in a full-contact showcase.

There was little stop in the action, as the two teams racked up a combined 101 scores.

The event, held annually on campus, raised money for students with disabilities. Money is split evenly between the Campus Colleagues, a group that provides financial assistance to disabled students, and the Bill Alvarez Scholarship Fund.

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Alvarez, a former Orange Coast College student who returned to the campus to run a computer lab for disabled students, started the event more than 10 years ago.

He became quadriplegic after being struck by a car in 1984. With limited movement, Alvarez, a former marathon runner, continued to sky-dive and play sports.

The Orange Coast College wheelchair rugby exhibition became his chance to show that his competing days weren't over.

"It allowed people to understand what he was so passionate about," said Susan Alvarez, Bill's wife of 17 years.

Alvarez died in May 2004 of a blood infection. He was 40.

"He was one of the most unforgettable people I ever met," said Bob Zhe, counselor for disabled students at Orange Coast College. "He never complained, never felt sorry for himself."

Last year, the event raised about $1,500 toward scholarships and book money for five students.

Zhe said since he's been involved with the event, it has grown every year. The quality of play has improved along with the equipment, Ray said. New wheelchairs are designed specifically to take hard hits without tipping over.

Never has the sport received as much attention as this year. That's largely due to the documentary "Murderball," which introduced audiences to the world of wheelchair rugby.

"It changed the public perception that people in wheelchairs are fragile," said Ray, a former player. "These people are physical and aggressive. This isn't a pretend sport -- it's the real deal."

Wheelchair ruby is still a relatively young sport. It began two decades ago in Canada as an alternative to other wheelchair sports.

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