Team USA Wheelchair Rugby is A-OK thanks to Aoki vs. Chile

VILLA DE EL SALVADOR — Just hours until the Parapan American Opening Ceremony, the United States Wheelchair Rugby Team was already in action early. First up in preliminary matches was the Team Chile.

Team USA entered the pre-match huddle for a quick speech by coach James Gumbert, where he inspired his team, “Enjoy this moment, you won’t get enough of it as a team and these moments are special. You are playing for your team and you are playing for your country.” 

As if it were a war cry, there began a chant of “U-S-A!” over and over by the USA athletes that broke the silence. The match was up and running.

Starting for the United States were Joseph Jackson, Charles Aoki, Ernest Chung, and team captain Joseph Delagrave. For the Chilean team it was Alexis Barraza, Piero Arévalo, Ricardo Díaz and Fransisco Cayulef.

The USA opened the first quarter by scoring 10 of 19 points courtesy of #5 Aoki. Upon hearing that this reporter had trouble keeping up with his scores and stats in this very report, Aoki commented,

“I like scoring. It’s fun, but it never gets old. But it was a great team effort all around.”

It was the commanding defense of the United States that turned Murderball into a bloodbath.  Aoki led Team USA with 3 steals and Chung added one more in the first quarter. The USA Wheelchair Rugby Team maintained control of the ball, only allowing 3 goals by Chile.  This would remain Chile’s goal total for a while. In fact, Chile did not score their fourth point until 2:39 left in the second period, when the United States was already up by 28. This was thanks to Delagrave and Joshua Wheeler, who substituted in for Aoki.  Combined, Delagrave and Wheeler had 15 goals in the first half alone. The U.S. was now on a roll, going into the second half leading 27-4. 

Team USA in THe Huddle
USA Wheelchair Rugby Team in the huddle during the first half vs. Chile on August 23, 2019. The United States beat Chile 60-16. Photo Credit: Michael A. Clubine

“Every game we go out and we challenge ourselves to play to a very high standard, whether it’s the #1 team in the world or another team that is taking the court, because we’ve been a part of games before where we have played teams that aren’t ranked as high and this is their Super Bowl.” Said Gumbert, clarifying, “If they play and beat Team USA, it’s their Super Bowl, so we understand each country and we play them with a great amount of respect.”

Despite a short spree of scoring from Chile, adding three points in the third quarter and seven in the fourth, the damage was already done. The United States slowed down the pace of play to run out the clock in the third quarter. They could not be touched. 

Wheeler and Delagrave led all scorers with 14 points each. Not far behind were Aoki and Eric Newby, each scoring a dozen points.  It was a real team effort said Coach Gumbert, 

“It was a total team victory. The strength of our team is in the numbers and the ability to play above what our potential is, and today we were able to execute our .” Adding, “We played to our very high standards.”

The United States will next take on Argentina Saturday, August 24th at 8 AM (Central Time) and #9 world ranked Brazil at 3 PM (Central Time).

For more photos from the Lima Para Pan American Games 2019, please check out:

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