Friends, I’ve always made it a point to continue learning as an adult. And what’s great about learning as an adult is that your free to choose what it is you want to learn. The downside is, just because your interested in something does not necessarily mean that that something is interested in you.
For instance, I’m interested in having someone leave a box of money on my lawn every Monday while I do little more than launch M&M’s from my belly button into my mouth for eight hours a day. Thus far, nobody’s offered to help me realize this dream. But you can’t have it if you don’t ask, right?
Well, there is one interest that had been on my mind for some time, and recently, I decided to pursue that interest. That is how I came to know the Milwaukee Westside Harlequin Rugby Club. While I had never played, I fell in love withthe game of Rugby back in 2003 when I began watching that year’s Rugby World Cup, and I knew from that moment that I wanted to give it a try.
Rugby has yet to catch on in the U.S. like it has in the rest of the world, but take my word for it, it’s only a matter of time.
Rugby began in an English town named, oddly enough, Rugby. Legend has it that, in 1823, a student at Rugby school by the name of William Webb Ellis was playing soccer with some other boys. He then picked up the ball and began running with it, and, in doing so created an entirely new game called Rugby. Coincidentally, he was also the first child diagnosed with ADD. Whether or not the legend is true, England did use it to claim the game as their own in the same way that we decide who gets to ride shotgun; by calling it.
While I didn’t know it at the time, in the Wisconsin Rugby Union, the Milwaukee Westside Harlequins is a Division II team. Joining a Division II rugby team to learn the game from zero, is a bit like joining the Navy Seals just to get a little exercise.
At first, the game of rugby can appear as barely controlled chaos, especially to the football-trained eye of Americans. When describing the game to the average American, the minute you mention the 22-meter line, you can see their eyes glaze over, but it’s really quite simple once you learn a few of the laws and a little vocabulary.
First of all, a meter is basically a yard. In football, you score a touchdown by crossing the goal line. In rugby you score a try by placing the ball across the try line. That didn’t make a lot of sense to me either. It seems to me that all the “trying” occurs well before the try line. The try line should be called the “Hey, looky there, you finally made it!” line. But the American football term, “touchdown” actually came from Rugby in that, upon crossing the try line, the ball carrier must touch the ball down on the ground before a try is awarded.
In American football the ball or the ball carrier goes “out of bounds.” In Rugby it/he goes “into touch.” You’d think it would go “out of touch,” but the phrase “out of touch” is reserved for 37 year old rookies that try to play with a Division II Rugby club.
I showed up at the first day of Harlequin practice dressed in the shirt of the New Zealand national team and matching shorts, shoes and socks to show everyone that I knew a thing or two about the game. When more and more guys showed up in grass stained sweats and tee shirts, I started to feel like a picture in a catalog. It was like showing up to a poker game dressed as the Jack of Diamonds.
And then we started to run. Eager to participate, I ran like Forest Gump. That’s when I learned the first rule of Rugby, if you’re in front of the ball, you’re out of play. So I eased off the throttle and promptly went from out of play to in the way.
Practice after practice came and went, and each time I was slightly less clueless than the practice before. I could tell that, based on my technique, the only position that the coaches would ever consider me for was “injured reserve,” but they never let on. What I never let on was, while I’m pretty healthy, when God gave me my knees, it must have been during His ceramic phase, and in my late thirties, I don’t think that they’re going to improve anytime soon.
But despite my unwilling body, my experience with the Milwaukee Westside Harlequins has made me a bigger fan of Rugby than I ever thought possible. In my opinion, Rugby is the greatest team sport there is. When a player has the ball, 14 other players literally have his back. And I say “his,” but Rugby is far from an exclusive boy’s club. There are some excellent women’s rugby clubs in the area as well, Milwaukee Scylla to name one, and, in the field of women’s High School Rugby, Divine Savior Holy Angels (D.S.H.A.) is one of the best (if not THE best) in the nation. But this year, the Milwaukee Westside Harlequins are taking a run at it.
In a recent trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan, they defeated their Milwaukee rivals, the Black & White, and were named co-champions along with the Indianapolis Impalas. Both teams will represent the Midwest Rugby Union in the Men’s Division II National Championship. The Milwaukee Westside Harlequins’ first match is on May 18th versus the Tampa Krewe in Columbia, South Carolina.
While the Harlequins will be representing Milwaukee, Wisconsin on the national stage, rugby is a club sport and all the funds to get them there and lodge them while they’re there must be raised by the club itself. If you are interested in helping by making a donation of any size, you can visit the Milwaukee Westside Harlequins website. Also, if you’re a business, large or small, and would like your logo or website branded to their uniforms in exchange for a little traveling cash, you can do that, too. In fact, the boys are so amped up for this tournament, that you might even be able to convince them to tattoo your logo onto their actual bodies (specific location on a sliding pay scale).
Go get ’em, Quins!