Joe Soares - 3.5 - 2011
Class: 3.5 Player
Hall Of Fame Induction: 2011
Webster’s defines ‘Hall of Fame’ as “a group of individuals in a particular category (as a sport) who have been selected as particularly illustrious”. When I think of illustrious, I think of one that illuminates or shines brightly and, in his era, none shone brighter in the USQRA than Joe Soares. At his peak from the early-to-mid ‘90s, Soares not only was the best 3.5 in the world, he was the best player on the best team in the world.
Soares was the one player that his coach Terry Vinyard couldn’t and wouldn’t take off the court in any big moment in any big game, both at the USQRA and National team level. And for the Tampa Generals of the 1990s as well as the U.S. National team, no shortage of big moments existed. With Soares their
only dominant high-pointer, the Generals played in every national championship game from 1992 through 1996. They won three national titles in ’92, ’93 and ’95 – a stretch that included a record 93- game win streak from 1992-94.
“He played in an era where team success depended largely on having a dominant high point player that commanded double and triple teams when on offense and somebody who would reek havoc on defense,” said fellow General great Dave Gould. “The absolute definition of this type of player was Joe Soares.”
At the national team level, Soares won the World Championship as a member of Team USA in 1995 and again in 1998. It was, however, the Gold Medal game in the 1996 Atlanta Paralympics that perhaps provided the pinnacle of Soares’ career. With a short-handed Team USA facing a determined Canadian team, Soares and first ballot HOF member Cliff Chunn were the only two members of Team USA that played every minute as the Americans held off the Canadians. Team USA won the Gold Medal in a game that provided a defining, as well as maybe the most important, moment for the sport of wheelchair rugby in its inaugural Paralympic Games.
From an individual standpoint, Soares is arguably without a peer as the best player of the 1990s. If they tracked statistics, he would’ve been the leading scorer of the 1990s – by a pretty significant margin – to go along with 36 All-Tournament selections and 13 Most Valuable Player awards. Soares also made his teams and the players around him better by bringing out the best in their abilities. His work ethic off the court with cross training (hand cycling, tennis, swimming) and the mental preparation of studying film set an example for his teammates in how to elevate and take their game to the next level.Former teammate and current General coach Dave Ceruti said of Soares, “I tell guys to this day that in all of my years in rugby I've never seen or met any player that prepared themselves physically , mentally and mechanically for any competition like Joe.”
Added Hall of Famer Gould, “He was the most mentally prepared player on game day as anyone who has ever played the sport. Joe never left anything to chance as he would double and triple check his equipment. Even though a teammate, going against Joe in practices forced us all to work hard to become better players because you never wanted to lose to him. I was fortunate to play alongside Joe for 10 years and harbor to think what my career would have been like if that were not the case.” Were there imperfections and occasional, yet regrettable conflicts throughout his career with some opponents, teammates and coaches? Without a doubt, there were. But you’ll be hard pressed in any sport, in any Hall of Fame, to find a multitude of star players that didn’t drive an occasional wedge within their team while suffering a lapse of judgment a time or two in following a self-absorbed path. All of which make Soares a human being, nothing more and nothing less.
“Players across the globe hated to play against him because you always knew you were getting his best effort from the opening tip to the final buzzer,” Gould continued. “Joe Soares a player you love to hate unless at the start of a game you happen to be wearing the same color jersey.
Joe’s contribution to the game, along with fellow Generals and HOFers Vinyard and Gould, in making rugby a global sport is simply unparalleled. Say what you want about his role in Murderball, the international teams he’s coached and the clinics he’s performed; but all of which collectively has made the level of play better both within the USQRA and internationally, while taking the level of awareness of the sport of wheelchair rugby higher than anyone could have envisioned 15 to 20 years ago.