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Northeast Passage Makes Television Show Debut- Twice

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
July 9, 2008

Northeast Passage athletes Devan Kucker (green shirt) and Cole Hunter (yellow) will appear on the PBS television show Fetch, whose producers came to UNH last week to film them playing basketball. Chandler Bullard (gray shirt), program assistant for Northeast Passage, is right with basketball.

Northeast Passage participants playing quad rugby or wheelchair basketball aren’t an unusual sight at the Hamel Rec Center but there was something different about the games going on last week: a film crew followed the players around the court.

The sports demos were being shot for two PBS television shows produced by Boston’s WGBH. Fetch, part game show, part reality show, features animated host Ruff Ruffman who presents real kids with assorted challenges that make learning about science fun. The show Design Squad has contestants vying for a $10,000 college scholarship based on their engineering skills.

After seeing a televised segment on Northeast Passage’s Similarity Awareness program, the producers of Fetch contacted the UNH-based group for help on an episode involving a wheelchair challenge.

Two Design Squad teams—past projects include designing an underwater prosthetic for an amputee dancer and making cardboard furniture for IKEA—were charged with building a quad rugby chair. Producers wanted to include footage of an actual game to unveil the chairs and test the designs.

Photo by Keely Ames

“We thought this was a great opportunity to showcase Northeast Passage, to let people know what we offer and what the kids can do,” Keely Ames, Northeast Passage development assistant, said of the organization’s involvement.

The Fetch filming had two able-bodied kids playing wheelchair basketball against two kids who play sports with Northeast Passage. Chandler Bullard, program assistant for Northeast Passage, served as host, giving the Fetch players a few pointers before the game and taping began.

“Chandler’s been teaching them the science behind the activities,” Ames said. “He also worked with them on the track, where they raced in the wheelchairs then let the air out of the tires and raced again for comparison.”

The Design Squad teams built a chair for a quad rugby player who wanted someone to practice against.

“Think robot,” Ames said. “The sensor on her chair allows the other chair to seek her out and hit her—quad rugby is all about contact. She wanted an autonomous chair that could simulate the moves of a defensive player. Because the sport is co-ed and she can be playing against stronger, larger men, she wanted to be able to practice maneuvering and hitting on her own. This is where the robot chair came in.”

The wheelchairs used in quad rugby are specially modified for the sport. Design Squad students brought two newly-designed chairs with them. Both moved independently and tracked the players on the court, allowing them to practice maneuvering with a “robot chair” in pursuit.

“Both chairs shut down after big hits, but the contestants were able to get them moving again and the player resumed practice,” Ames said.

Participating on both shows provided another opportunity to tell people about Northeast Passage, which offers innovative therapeutic recreation services, disability-related health promotion and adapted sports programs throughout New England.

Northeast Passage is a program of UNH’s College of Health and Human Services and is an affiliate of Disabled Sports USA.

The TV shows will air sometime in September 2009.

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