August Kissel and Julia Skeval
Baseball, football, basketball and soccer are all common household sports, known to most of the general population and understood by just as many. However, when someone mentions the physical and fast-paced game of rugby, not as many heads will nod in recognition. Complex and quick plays, loud shouts of ‘Here!’ and ‘Pass!’ and mud-covered players make up one of the “fastest growing sports in the U.S.,” said coach of the Syracuse Silverbacks, Jamesville-DeWitt High School social studies teacher David Bunyan.
Mr. Bunyan has coached for nearly eight years, ever since the team’s creation. Players come out from schools across the county such as Jamesville-DeWitt, Baldwinsville, Westhill and Liverpool to join. Bunyan played his senior year of high school, through college and then for about seven to eight years after that. The sport has yet to become a school sponsored activity, so at the moment it’s a club team. This means the team must travel to Rochester, Hamburg and Brockport to play other teams.
Watching a game of rugby will quickly prove that the sport is not at all the same thing as football. Rugby players wear no padding or elements of protection, except for a mouth guard and shinguards. Their plays are more compact, including one where the two teams stand head to head, throwing their arms over each other’s shoulders before the ball is placed on the field to begin play. Another one involves players being lifted up into the air by their teammates, trying to deflect the ball from its intended recipient when the ball is throw in from out-of-bounds.
It’s difficult to keep up with and to track the oval-shaped ball as it’s throw quickly from player to player and when it gets jumbled in a pile of players, all fighting for the same thing. However, it’s captivating to watch and it’s a game that makes you respect the players out on the field.
On Saturday, May 10, the Silverbacks took on top ranked Kenmore (near Buffalo) at home at Charger’s Field in Syracuse. The varsity team lost but junior-varsity remained undefeated, winning 24-17.
Parents of members from both teams lined the sidelines, the entire crowd moving with the ball as the teams were moving it closer into scoring position. For those new to watching rugby, it was hard to track the ball and know which team had possession; the parents, however, were able to tell exactly where the ball was, who had it and when their team scored, they were the first ones to cheer.
The field was relatively dry for that Saturday’s game, however, mud puddles were scattered across the field, leaving numerous players with mud stained legs and jerseys. Several times, players were sent to the ground after being tackled by others competing for the ball or diving for a loose ball. Rugby is a very physical game, played without any type of body protection for players and is very different from any high school sport played today. Players must memorize complex plays, prepare their bodies for taking hard and compact hits and keep the mentality to persevere after repeatedly being pushed back by their opponents.
It is definitely not a game one could simply decided to pick and play one day. It takes obvious dedication teamwork but is one of the most interesting and exciting sports we have in the Central New York area. Varsity player and junior at J-DHS, Drew Harmon, said he was first introduced to the sport by fellow teammate junior Ben Nemier. He enjoys the physical aspect of the game, with the players not having to wear protection. “The team has become like a family, we’re all here for each other,” he said. Sophomore Nolan Barth agreed with Harmon, adding that everyone worked well together. Barth only joined this year, having been convinced by other members of his wrestling team who also participated in rugby. Sophomore Will Purcell liked the technique and the amount of strategy playing takes.
Junior Joe Lawrence described it as a sport that’s not like any other. “It has aspects of soccer, with not stopping the clock, and football with the rough aspect, but it’s in a completely different category,” he said.
Junior Tommy Morse explained that a dislike he had was that “(rugby) isn’t a school sport, meaning we don’t get as much practice as everyone else.” Purcell, who only began playing February because his friends talked him into it said, “this game is new to me and very time consuming to learn all the rules and plays.” Junior Alex Macor, said there’s so many things he loves about playing rugby, but one of the only downsides is the attitude of the parents; “Sometimes, (the parents) can get too aggressive on the sidelines. It gets annoying quickly.”
All in all, the game of rugby is an event to watch and it will capture your attention immediately. As Barth put it, “(rugby) is completely unique, there are no other sports like it out there.”
The Silverbacks next home game is Saturday, May 24 at 1 p.m. against Orchard Park at the Charger’s Field in Syracuse. A complete schedule of future games and directions can be found at their official site: http://syracusesilverbacks.com
Pictures and updates can also be found on the Silverbacks’ Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/Syracuseyouthrugby