Rugby: Some good old boys
By: JOE LICANDRO
When Tom McGinty arrived on campus three years ago from San Jose, Calif., he was hoping to continue playing the sport he fell in love with in high school. Unfortunately, rugby was nowhere to be found at Notre Dame.
While others would have quit or given up, McGinty refused to abandon his dreams of playing rugby at Notre Dame. Along with sophomore Dave Bishop and junior John Friskal, McGinty joined the South Bend Blues Rugby Club, an organization with members ranging in age from 18 to 50 years old.
"The three of us played for the South Bend Blues Rugby Club during the fall of my freshman year," said McGinty. "When you are a rugby player, you are a player for life. When you put on a rugby jersey, you are immediately accepted by all other rugby clubs in the world. Rugby is just a great game. It definitely has its own culture."
Putting on a Blues jersey was a great opportunity for all three students to continue playing rugby, but it was not the same as having a team on Notre Dame's campus.
The original varsity rugby program at Notre Dame was disbanded on August 3, 1995 for repeatedly violating University rules. The program was put on probation twice in the '80s and then permanently eliminated after inexcusable misconduct during the '94 spring season.
"That team definitely deserved to be disbanded," said McGinty. "Rugby had a bad reputation here, but those players no longer attend this University. I just wanted to bring rugby back to Notre Dame and share this great sport with everyone else."
During the spring of 2000, the trio worked extremely hard to create a rugby team at Notre Dame.
"I talked to RecSports about maybe starting a club team here. We made a concerted effort into bringing rugby back to this campus," said Bishop. "We started building alumni support by writing letters and e-mail to former players. We sent a petition around campus and got 1,400 student signatures. The next fall, we drafted an 11-page constitution and presented a proposal to Student Affairs and Student Activities."
Slowly but surely, the trio's hard work began to pay off. Although the team was not recognized by Student Activities as an officially sponsored team sport at Notre Dame, Student Affairs did choose to recognize rugby as a club sport.
The ruling essentially meant that the trio was allowed to form a team that could practice on campus, but could not play official games on campus. Furthermore, the team was not allowed to have any official affiliation with the University. Thus, in the fall of 2000, the trio formed the South Bend Old Boys Rugby Club.
"We got a lot of our friends to sign up at first," said McGinty. "We started having practice twice a week. Then it just caught on by word of mouth. By the end of the first year, we had 14 members. Anyone can just come to practice and give it a shot. Last year was kind of rough. Dave, John and I had to be the coaches and teach everyone the game. We had to just scrimmage a bunch of local rugby clubs and Penn High School for most of our games. We only had three games against other universities."
One year later, the club is alive and well. The size of the team has now more than doubled to 30 members. Just as important, the national governing body of rugby in the United States (USA Rugby) recognized the Old Boys an official rugby organization.
Rugby: A Culture Unto Its Own
Imagine a full-contact sport with no pads, no stoppages of play, and no substitutions. Sounds tough, huh? Just ask the Old Boys. For the 30 members of the squad, rugby is more than just a game. It is a way of life.
"Rugby is a worldwide brotherhood," said Bishop. "I started playing rugby in high school in Canada. My parents now live in Australia where rugby is just huge. I could go to any city and wear my rugby shirt and be accepted. Last summer, a rugby club in Australia let me compete with them."
"There's no other sport like it," said junior Billy Hutchins. "You beat the hell out of each other for 80 minutes. Then after the game, you take the other team out to a party. There is no animosity out there. After the game, we're all friends."
Rugby originated in England in 1823. It is a popular sport in Europe, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Only in recent years has rugby caught on in the United States. It is now the fastest growing club sport in America.
Rugby is often compared to American football because of the scoring opportunities, but McGinty does not believe that is an entirely accurate comparison.
"The way you score is very similar to football," said McGinty. "But the style of play is much different. Rugby is a cross between hockey and soccer. It's like hockey, except without the skates, because there are no stoppages of play and you are supposed to constantly hit each other. It's like soccer because it is a rough game with no pads where you have to run around a huge field for 80 minutes with no substitutions."
Rugby is not a sport for the faint of heart. It is a very physically intense, brutal game.
"It is the toughest game I've ever played," said sophomore John Torro. "It's hard but it's part of the fun."
"The guys out there are crazy," said fellow sophomore Tres `Dirty' Studer. "I thought I'd fit right in so I gave it a shot. The sport is the most intense sport out there. The brotherhood is unmatched in any other type of organization."
"Everyone gets hurt and injured at one point or another," said sophomore Stefan Borovina. "Everyone is sore after the game. My shoulder still hurts from last Saturday's game. Because of the bond that is formed between teammates, everyone plays through the pain."
"There are 2000 pounds of pressure on people's heads and necks during the scrums," said McGinty. "There's a special bond that develops from that. We all respect each other out there."
A Happy Ending
After only playing three games last season, team members worked extremely hard over last summer to contact other schools' athletic programs to schedule games. By the end of this school year, the team will have competed in a total of 12 games.
Despite not having a coach, scholarships or any funding, the Old Boys have an unbelievable record of 6-3. Even more impressive, this team is competing with some of the best programs in the land. This year's squad has defeated schools with large enrollments and huge athletic departments such as Michigan and Tennessee.
"I think a lot of teams take us lightly because we don't have any of the Notre Dame practice gear or uniforms," said McGinty. "They know we are Notre Dame, but we look like the Bad News Bears out there. We just recently saved up enough money to buy our own jerseys. We all wear different colored socks. We play totally out of love for the sport. Maybe because we are a self-made team, we push each other harder than the other teams."
This weekend, the team will play its final two home games of the season, against Central Michigan and Michigan State. Game times are set for Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.
For Bishop, who is set to graduate this May, these final three games of his rugby career at Notre Dame will be bittersweet.
"This is for me what I'm leaving this University," said Bishop. "Everyone has something to offer, and this is what I had to offer. Along with the other guys on the team, rugby will be our legacy at Notre Dame."
Although the team is not officially sanctioned, both McGinty and Bishop are hopeful that sometime in the future, Irish rugby will again be an NCAA sport. If not, both players are proud that they helped provide an opportunity for other students to play rugby at Notre Dame.
"When I meet people abroad and tell them I go to ND, they are surprised that we do not have an official rugby team," said Bishop. "We're the Fighting Irish. If anyone should have a rugby team, it's Notre Dame. I know this club will continue to just improve. There are only two juniors and one senior on the team. The rest of the team is all freshmen and sophomores."
"I realize it won't happen during my time here," said McGinty. "It'd be nice to play our games at Stepan and wear `IRISH' across our chests. It is my hope that some day my kids could come here and play rugby for Notre Dame."
To support The Old Boys at their games this weekend:
1. Go west down Edison/Angela and cross U.S. 31.
2. Go through 3 more stoplights (over the river).
3. Turn right at the first stop sign (Vasser Street). The field is on the right.
All Sports Stories for Friday, April 19, 2002