I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

Starting this week and for the remainder of the year, I will be trying to watch documentaries grouped around particular themes. For this week I am focusing on sport documentaries, and I have a rather long list developed from suggestions on Twitter.

My first choice for this week is Murderball (2005), which is directed by Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin. Murderball is another name for quad rugby, a global sport for quadriplegic players. At the time this documentary was made, the U.S. quad rugby team had dominated the global competition, until Canada defeated the team in 2002. This defeat sets up the deep rivalry between the two teams, and this documentary chronicles the road to the 2004 Athens Paralympics and culminates with them facing off.

Murderball also provides some great portraits of the players, and their families and friends. Each player on the team is a quadriplegic with differing levels of abilities. Many became quadriplegic following car accidents, though a couple overcame diseases. They players are honest, open, and humored about their recoveries and their moving on with life, such as in dating and sexual activity.

Mark Zupan is the primary player we follow throughout this documentary. He serves as the spokesman for the team, going to events to talk about the team and recruit players. Zupan seems larger than life, both aggressive and vulnerable at the same time, and interviews with his friends and family suggest his personality hasn’t changed much because of the accident.

Another major portrait is Joe Soares, a much-awarded player from the United States who goes on to coach the Canadian team. The documentary spends a decent amount of time focusing on the relationship he has with his son, which seems troubled at first but then improves after he has a heart attack.

The competition preparation moves the stories forward. The U.S. and Canada face off in a game that determines which one has the top seed going into the Paralympics. Within the last five seconds, Zupan scores to win that top spot for the U.S. team. At the Athens Paralympics, the two teams face off again, this time with Canada winning. Shapiro and Rubin make an interesting choice in representing this game with a rather mellow feel in that the sounds are muted, the music is or mellow, for the first couple periods. In the third period of play the game sounds appear again as the tension builds and ultimately Canada wins.

Overall, Murderball is a high-energy documentary with interesting people, great score, and intense competition story that grabs you and keeps you.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh is a documentary blogger and mass media professor at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Follow her on Twitter @documentarysite.