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Saturday, June 24, 2017 This Week's Paper

OUT OF MY ELEMENT VOL. III: RUGBY

// When the Dust and Mud Settled, I felt my Soul Shaken

There’s a really old game going on in our neighborhood, and it is fast becoming an infatuation with me. No, it is not Women’s Roller Derby. The ladies put on a fine display of hits, sweat and speed, but infatuation is a bit too strong of a word there, seeing as I’m a married man and all.

I have found a new love, and I’m ashamed to say that in my ignorance, I mocked it for year upon year.

I’m talking about the grand old sport of Rugby, and I’m here to admit that I was unaware of the sheer, wondrous brutality of the game after having witnessed it recently in Tacoma and I am forever in debt to all of the friends whom I scoffed at when they tried to explain to me why it was so awesome.

I thought it was a glorified recess sport. Something kids play when real football is out of season. There was just no way it was as tough and rugged as American Football.

How can a grown man change so much in such a short amount of time, you may ask? Believe me, I didn’t do the changing. Rugby changed me.

I’ll try to explain as best as I can, even though I’m still just an infant to the grand scheme of all things Rugby.

For my Out of My Element column here at the Tacoma Weekly, I have been charged with searching out sports and sporting events that I have never personally witnessed and whether the fallout be good or bad, come back and report to you, the reader, what effect it has had upon me.

First I needed to find a Rugby match to view. I scoured the Internet only to find that the local men’s club – the Tacoma Nomads – had just wrapped up their season. Next up, I checked to see if the women’s club – the Tacoma Sirens – was playing anywhere soon. They were, but it was way out of town, so I moved on. I stumbled upon the Under-19 league and the Tacoma Tsunami. With all due respect to the older clubs, they had a much cooler name, and their season was still in full-swing. I had found my winner.

Off to Parkland I went for a Rugby Washington league match between my hometown Tacoma Tsunami and my almost-hometown Parkland Warriors. I arrived a full hour and a half early to make sure I was prepared to cover the event properly.

Okay, I’ll be honest, I thought the match started an hour earlier than in reality, but my image of punctuality could always use some polishing, so I’ll take what I can get. I made the most of my extra time however and began taking mental note of the big bruisers warming up on the field. My anticipation of some serious warfare was kindled. My attention was also drawn to the barbeques being setup. I have a short attention span when barbeque comes into play, I’m a weak man. I admit it. More on the barbeque deal later.

Other than showing up ridiculously early, I also found fault with the weather. It was sunny and mild. This was no way to introduce myself to Rugby! You’re never supposed to complain about great weather in the Puget Sound, but I couldn’t help but knock a few percentage points off of the day from the start because of it. I wanted some mud and I was going to pout about it at least until the first whistle.

There are 15 players to a side. A few are wearing what looks to be 1920 football helmets. Basically a glorified stocking cap strapped under their chins. I’m unsure whether this is to protect their ears or their hair. I’ll act smart and go with the ears. The players are wearing the equivalent of soccer uniforms; regular jerseys and shorts. Not much in the way of padding to be seen at all. I’m thinking this might be intense.

The match began with a whistle and a kick. The ball goes out of bounds and as I like to do at movies when it goes black at the beginning, I say to myself “The End.” I always find it funny and my wife tends to snicker a little. So there are at least two of us. I win.

I had no idea how much winning was about to happen for me. Less than a minute into the match a sturdy Parkland lad was struggling to shake off a couple of tacklers when he was blindsided by what seemed to be a blur from my right. This blur’s forehead slammed into the runner’s forehead and nose and the noise of the impact made my fingers go a little week. I usually have the same feeling when I see a spider. That was the effect it had upon me. He was okay though. It might have been a bad tackle, but the intent certainly wasn’t there and after ten minutes of regaining his faculties on the sidelines, he returned to the game with what seemed to be the smallest band-aid that could possibly be found stuck to the bridge of his bloodied nose.

Knowing that my day, let alone my week, would have been done and over with after such a severe blow, I was amazed at just how tough these young men were, and they just kept at it. I would have nominated several tackles for “Hit of the Week” on any sportscast, and that would have been hits in an American Football game with pads and helmets. What was more remarkable than the impacts during the match was the fact they all just kept getting back up.

Tacoma held off a late Parkland charge in the last three minutes of the match. The rules of the game were still a complete gibberish to me, but I knew what a score meant. Five points into the end-zone and two points for an extra-point. I stood at the goal-line and saw the Parkland player push to within just two feet of the goal, only to be washed away by the Tacoma Tsunami (pun very much intended) and deposited nearly ten yards back. Parkland’s ride was over and Tacoma wins 14-7.

I left the field dazed. Too many second-hand blows to the head and midsection and I swear my knees and hips were aching. I walked right past the barbeques and slumped behind the wheel of my car. Somehow, I found the strength to drive home and deposited myself in my recliner for a nap, only to awake a new man.

I needed more.

A week later I found myself at the Portland Avenue Playfields for another Tsunami match. This time around it was the Shelton Savages on the menu and the hometown boys delivered the goods yet again with a 32-19 victory running their record to 4-2.

Even better, there was rain and mud in the mix this time around. My earlier good-weather pouting was exonerated and I enjoyed myself even more this day. Any sort of activity seems more dramatic when a little slipping and mud is mixed in with the hits and the blood.

If you were hoping for a rundown of the rules of Rugby, I’m afraid reading about them won’t help you much. Watch some matches on Youtube and get out there and see it first-hand. It’s possibly the most confusing sport I have ever witnessed and at the moment I may have a good handle on half the rules so far. They started setting down the rules in England in 1845 so you can be sure they’re meant to confuse us Colonists. You just may acquire the taste.

Tacoma hosts the undefeated Prairie Mustangs Saturday April 26 at the Portland Avenue Playfields. It’s an 11:30 a.m. match and I highly suggest you get out there.

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