In 1994 I moved to New York City and met a group of, soon to be, friends for life. In 2000 I moved to Hong Kong and met another group of, soon to be, friends for life, my very own Band of Brothers. In 1995, my friend convinced someone to drive my brother and I to a tournament in Long Island and I met, my soon to be, wife. Like the old Saturday Night Live! skit (ok, a little poetic license), “RRRugby’s been berry berry good to me!”
But today reminded me of why this sport does what all the other sports try to do. All of the professional sports have programs for kids and make great commercials showing kids getting exercise and having fun. But I’ve had the opportunity to witness, first hand, for the nth time, where the sport of Rugby has become the Great Equalizer. I see this in a mother’s eye. I see this in a boy who is standing a bit taller. I see this in myself, trying to be coach and line judge, while trying NOT to show the ‘Dad’ side of me. But when that conversion kick cleared the posts — boy was I proud!
You see, in Rugby, anyone can excel. It’s not a game of special teams. It’s not a game that can be dominated by a single player. To me, it was the first true Team sport I ever played. More importantly, it is a sport where someone that’s ‘average at best’ in other sports, can excel and, more importantly, become a valid and important part of the team. Today reminded me how big an influence, and how big a piece of someone’s life, Rugby can become.
Many years ago there was a boy playing flag Rugby on a team of superstars (superstars from basketball, baseball, etc.) Where the superstars ran all over the field, avoiding tackles like the plague, running 25 meters but only gaining two, this boy would get the ball and run straight ahead, and gain three meters. There was no flash, there was no pizazz, just straight ahead, three meters. And when the opposing team had the ball, straight forward, and flag (tackle!)
I know a young girl, petite, quiet and one you would never assume or view in an aggressive sense. Until you get her a set of flags and a Rugby ball — and then the tiger is released! This girl is a mad-woman on the pitch. She is confident, strong and a force to be reckoned with. This girl’s passion and interest has almost convinced her mother to let her join the Under 12 tackle team next year.
I know another girl who, again, is quiet, unassuming, and a great student. On the pitch she is a leader, a strong tackler and has no problem going toe to toe with the other U12 kids, boy or girl. Her brother plays so I’m sure her brother may have had some impact but she plays here own game and she does it well.
I have another “like a girl” moment, and that’s from a U12 that moved to a different team this year. For the two seasons I’ve had the luck of coaching her she was a player that set the example on the pitch. When we were ahead, and she was ready to score another try, she would wait for a teammate so she could pass and give them the opportunity to score. She sets the example of how the game should be played, quite literally, “like a girl”.
But the recent event that prompted this diatribe was from a young man that started playing Rugby just shy of two years ago. He’s in the Under 14 squad and isn’t one of the superstars, isn’t perfectly fit, wouldn’t be one of the kids you look at and then expect big things. And that’s what I love about Rugby. This Boy did BIG things — TWICE! On a breakaway from about 35 meters, he came running out of the pack, ball in hand, facing three opposing players. The first player that came in to tackle him was forcibly knocked back — this Boy was having none of that! The second two came at him separately, but then, like a cheetah after prey, this Boy kicked it into high gear. He got tackled at the try line but he made the try — and the look on his face, and his Mother’s face, was priceless! Both of them were walking away from this game a little taller and a lot prouder.
BUT THEN HE DID IT AGAIN — well, almost.
Another breakaway, and this Boy, a.k.a. Superman, had the try line in his sights. A similar play, with a similar cheetah, even faster this time. So proud of himself, coming in for his second try, in one game, he was going to place the ball, no diving, he was going to show that he made this try easy. And then that other guy caught up with him, just tapped the leg enough for his hand to hit his knee and knock the ball forward. Five meter scrum to them. But it didn’t matter, he may not have scored the try but everyone saw and everyone knew he could have. And that’s all that mattered.
And that’s why Rugby is the great equalizer. It is possible for everyone and anyone to play a part. And anyone willing to enter the pitch with me will be my brother. A few of our U12s had to play for the opposing team due to their lack of numbers (a story all too often told in Rugby) and their comments?
“I scored two for them and one for us!”
They just wanted to play, they wanted to participate and they were proud. I saw a Facebook post the other day, “Enemies for 80 minutes, Friends for life!” That pretty much says it all.
When I started playing Rugby in 1995 I realized this was the sport for me. When my future wife put up with my obnoxious teammates, I knew she was the wife for me. When I was on the wrong side of the world (or perhaps it was the right side) during the bombing in Bali, Indonesia, I saw how Rugby went beyond the Great Equalizer. I lost 11 friends, 9 teammates in that bombing. Our season had gotten off to a lousy start in 2002, but after Bali, we Band of Brothers pulled together and won the Grand Championship in our division. The Rugby community, as a whole, came together to support the people affected by this travesty. Our win was personal and we did it for the Boys up in the Sky Bar. But what I learned was how this community could take adversity and turn it into something greater.
Rugby has meant so much to me. But to see it through the eyes of my son, and all the kids on his team, makes me realize it trancends even further. They are learning community, respect, leadership and sportsmanship. They are building a camaraderie with their immediate teammates as well as the older ones. And you don’t see the parental impact that you see in little league (insert sport here). I would say it’s due to the fact that we’re in the States and us Seppos don’t understand the sport so the parents can’t get involved; however, I saw the same thing in Hong Kong mini-Rugby, and that’s a virtual melting pot of Rugby. This isn’t a regional thing, it’s the sport.
I see Rugby building kids moreso than any other sport I’ve watched my kids play, with or without me coaching. I’ve seen kids that aren’t sure of themselves when they start take command on the field. And this past weekend I saw a Boy take a step forward in his life that he’ll always remember. These things aren’t a flash in the plan. These are things that happen in every game. Whether Rugby can ever compete with the sports offered to kids here in the Land of ‘Yanks I can’t answer, but I am proud to be involved in seeing these few kids grow up in a game that I love so much. And I’m more proud to see them standing more tall and more confident than when they came in!
The old adage, Rugby is a hooligans game played by Gentlemen where football (sic soccer) is a Gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rings true. Rugby may seem like a giant game of Kill The Man With The Ball but there’s a method to the madness and a code that is followed. Rugby is, after all, the Great Equalizer. Thanks for reading, support your local hooker — go watch a Rugby match.