The game starts with a kickoff from the center. The stadium is buzzing with chants and cheers; the clock is set for 80 minutes, and 30 men are on the pitch.
Players are running and tossing the ball backward and laterally and occasionally punting it down the field, never stopping or losing focus.
Some compare this game to football and soccer, but it’s different — this is rugby, and its catching on at UMHB.
Started in England at a private school in the 19th century, rugby spread across Great Britain and into Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France.
There are two different types of rugby: union, with 15 players on each team, and league, with 13 players.
America is finally recognizing rugby as a sport, although it was slow to come on the scene. It is mainly played in California and on the East Coast, but it is migrating down to the Southern states. Rugby is popping up on college campuses and becoming more than just an intramural sport.
Texas collegiate athletes play in three divisions of men’s rugby union. The University of Texas and Texas A&M fall in the D1 category. Baylor, Texas Tech, Texas State and Texas Christian are classified as D2, and Stephen F. Austin and Southern Methodist are D3.
UMHB has not made the list — yet. McLane Hall, along with several students on campus, is trying to introduce the sport to male students.
Senior Christian ministry major and RA Zachary Raygoza has had the desire to bring the game to UMHB’s fields.
“I wanted to do something to get the residents more involved, so my idea was rugby,” he said. “It’s like football and soccer, but it’s foreign, so it would kind of attract people.”
Playing once a month, freshmen, seniors, English majors and tennis players put aside their differences to learn the game from across the pond. Rules are explained before each match, allowing guys to show up throughout the semester to play.
Junior Christian Studies major Percy Hudson had never played rugby before, but he wanted to try it because it’s a manly sport. Raygoza and Hudson initially played full force tackle with no equipment the first couple of games but decided to tweak the rules to make it touch rugby.
“We don’t play full contact. We try to keep it below the shoulders for a tackle,” Hudson said. “There is always a chance that you could get injured, though, in a super awesome game like rugby.”
The people who brought the sport to UMHB hope more men will want to play and learn the rules. If enough come out and show commitment, they hope to make a team.
Senior Sheshan Ratnam is an international student from Sri Lanka who played rugby in high school back home. He knows the game well and wants to share his passion with other Crusaders. Some of his closest friends are from his rugby team because it is a strong team-bonding sport.
“Everybody gets the ball, everybody gets to tackle and everybody gets to run with the ball …. It’s not like one person doing the whole thing,” he said. “You have to be focused every second of the game.”
Last week, several men tested their athletic abilities on the intramural fields. They played an eight-on-eight, hour-long match, with some tackling. Although the rules limit tackling, it was inevitable.
Raygoza said that after the game, the men realized what rugby is all about and got a feel for the game.
“It’s different than any other sport, and you don’t have to be a big, muscular guy to have fun and be successful,” he said.
McLane Hall is hoping to organize another game toward the end of October.