Good Sports

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IMG_1627This past weekend found me once again on the sidelines cheering for my son in the National Small College Rugby Organization (NSCRO) national championship game. The weather in the Atlanta area was picture perfect – an ideal environment for the Claremont Colleges Rugby Football Team┬áto defend their championship title from last year.

Unfortunately, they were bested by a very physical and very good team from Iowa Central Community College and forced to settle for the second place trophy. Yet what I noticed during the match, and what has stayed with me since Sunday, was the good sportsmanship I saw displayed.

Rugby is an aggressive, physical game with lots of tackling, pushing and shoving. It seems inevitable that tempers would sometimes flare between two groups of fit and muscular men going after each other. Yet more than once during the match, I saw one of the opposing players give one of ours a hand up off the field after a tackle. I saw our player reach out and give a “bro hug” to an opponent after knocking him to the ground. At no time did I see any altercations or hear any trash talking from the field.

After the match, the teams made their traditional way opposite each other to shake hands and give each other short embraces in a display of good will. The four teams in the finals gathered together for the awards ceremony, and I was touched to see an ICCC player reach around his teammate to grasp the shoulder of one of ours.

Sports teach young men and women many valuable lessons: of team work, perseverance, battling back from adversity, and healthy competition. But I think the most valuable lesson of all is one of good sportsmanship. It’s a lesson parents and coaches can instill in our youth, one that will take them far beyond the rugby pitch.

I once heard the following quip: “Soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans; rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.” Judging from Sunday’s performance at the rugby national championship, I’d definitely have to agree with the second part of that quote.

I’m so proud of my son, grateful to his coaches, and impressed by this group of young men with the heart of Lions.

In the Scrum

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18157322_1591400950892487_212723468669144388_nLast weekend, I had the opportunity to watch my son and his team compete in the Rugby National Championship in Denver, Colorado. Four top teams from small colleges across the country met to battle it out on the field in a sport that is unfamiliar to most Americans.

Until my son started playing rugby in his senior year of high school, I was unfamiliar with such terms as “line out,” “ruck,” “knock on,” and “scrum.” Fans at his games were mostly mystified by this sport that looks like football but is so different from that iconic American game. Luckily for us, our announcer would explain each referee call and other action so that, slowly but surely, we are learning the ins and outs of a game developed in the UK during the 18th and 19th Centuries.

My son’s success in rugby is not at all a surprise to me. When he was four years old, he told me he wanted to play that game where “all the guys pile on top of each other.” Sure enough, by age 10 he was playing tackle football and enjoyed laying out his opponents from his spot on the defensive line. Total fearlessness made him an excellent defensive tackle. He had the good fortune to be accepted into a great college in California where he continues to play American football and his more recent passion, rugby.

Over the weekend, I was able to see the camaraderie of the young men both on and off the field. And as I watched the odd formation known as the scrum, I saw it as a kind of metaphor for the relationship and purpose of these boys who are quickly becoming men. In the scrum, teammates literally hook themselves together in a unit, bearing down and pushing against a group of opponents, both sides attempting to move and gain possession of the ball. It’s a moment of intensity and even intimacy, as the teammates are joined in a single goal.

The Claremont Colleges Rugby Football team became the National Champions in a resounding victory of 65-0 against the Tufts University Jumbos. Words can’t express how elated my son’s team was at their tremendous feat. During the awards ceremony, they were irrepressible, cheering each other and teasing, clearly a band of brothers. But what meant the most to me was the award my son received: one for being the heart of the team off the field. Knowing that he means this much to his fellow teammates and coaches is to me the most meaningful thing to come out of his rugby experience.

Long after these young men hang up their football and rugby cleats, they will be out in the world working, raising families, and contributing to society. After seeing how they have connected with each other and how they have committed to being the best at something tough, gritty, and fierce, I have no doubt they will do great things. And I am so very grateful that my son is a part of something bigger than himself, something that will serve to make him more selfless, determined, and bonded to others as he continues on his journey to adulthood.