The Ruck-Making Report: Rushing into rugby season
July 10, 2012 | 1:00 pm
(Updated: July 2, 2012 | 4:32 pm)
Remember when you were in school looking forward to summer break – while some of your more industrious classmates stayed on for summer school? That is just about where the Colorado Rush rugby team finds itself. Taking a break from our traditional 15 players per side schedule, several on the team have stepped up to play in a 7-on-7 summer league.
Rugby 7s, as it is more commonly known, will make its debut on the world stage as an official Olympic sport in the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. Our summer league is held at Jacobs Park in southeast Denver each Wednesday, with games getting underway at 6 p.m.
As opposed to 40-minute halves in the traditional 15s, 7s feature 7 minute halves. Seven players per side, 7 minutes halves, hence 7s! Positions such as prop, flanker and wing, so clearly defined in 15s, are more blurred in 7s as each player has to be equally adept at running, passing, catching and tackling. Jeremy Ballard, Paul Butler, Tom Carrasco, Ernie Flowers, Michael Fuller, Chris Glascock, Rey Hernandez, Matt Holliday, Kun Jzang and Brian Wallace are among the few, the proud, the Rush 7s boys of summer.
The Rush is coming off a successful PrideFest appearance, rocking the parade with our bellowing chant and running plays such as line outs, scrums and mauls in front of a delighted and curious crowd. Approximately 150 men signed up at our booth to get more information about the team and this incredible game.
“There is something beautiful in the brutality of the sport,” said club manager and Rush co-founder Jeremy Ballard, explaining the allure of rugby. For many gay men, the sport proves to be an epiphany in reconciling their sexuality with sports.
Wing player Matt Holliday said, “From the time I was figuring out that I was gay I also inherited a lot of stereotypes. One of them being, because you are gay you are not suited to play contact sports.”
“The aggressive nature and physical demands of the game have given me a new sense of masculinity and athleticism I felt so deficient as a young adult,” said scrum-half/wing Tom Carrasco. It has forced me to face deeply imbedded and longstanding fears and fallacies about my sexuality and manhood.”
Facing internal fears and misconceptions about who we are is a common reaction to most gay men who take up this rough and tumble sport. But what happens on the pitch when taking on the predominantly straight teams that make up the league schedule? When I first glanced at the teams the Rush would be playing, Casper, Broomfield and Ft. Carson, my first thought was “I bet these guys can’t wait to kick some faggot ass.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“I have to say how unexpectedly grateful I am to the straight guys who play on our team and those we play against” remarked Holliday. “I imagined a tense and awkward third half (post game party), believing that the opposing team would not want to hang out with a bunch of gay guys. And they are not; they are hanging out with a bunch of guys who like rugby and that they have just played against.”
Inside center Moses Jimenez echoed Holliday’s feelings of gay/straight equanimity on the pitch, “The best experience I had was when I first tackled a guy way bigger than me. He was surprised I took him down and got up and shook my hand.”
“The camaraderie in this sport is unmatched by any other that I have played before” declared Ballard. Such camaraderie is forged not only by the intense physical and mental demands of the sport, but by its concept of inclusion. The Colorado Rush is a member of the International Gay Rugby Association and Board. As stated, IGRAB “will strive to ensure that no individual shall be excluded from participating in IGRAB or rugby on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, nationality, ethnic origin, political beliefs, athletic ability, age, physical challenge, mental challenge or health status.”
I found these tenets were not just lip-service to diversity. I joined the team as a 50+ gay man with limited – at best – athletic ability and found myself playing all 80 minutes of our first league game.
Now, months later, when planning a vacation to Scotland this fall, one of my first steps along with checking into lodging and flight options was to see if Edinburgh had an IGRAB team. It does. I can’t wait to check out the Caledonian Thebans in action and share a pint with them!
What sport can get in your blood like that?