Ellinika Fellow Ruggers,
I touched on this briefly last month, but this subject deserves more in-depth exploration. In an age where two dads watching their sons play hockey fight, leaving one of them dead, and soccer riots in Zimbabwe kill thirteen people, unsportsmanlike conduct is becoming an epidemic both on and off of playing fields worldwide. With the growth of US high school rugby, there have been incidents of violence at high school rugby games. Last month, I witnessed one such occurrence. A very athletic high school team from Kansas City was at the Wichita 7s Tournament. Their team was performing at a very high level. In fact, they had even reached the semi-finals, where I think they were playing the Kansas Jayhawks. Unfortunately, tempers got high, and one of the Jayhawk players got kicked in the head. What came next was more of a verbal than physical riot. Luckily, the game had just ended, so tempers did not get a chance to erupt. I think I heard the world record for f-bombs. Garbage cans were thrown, and needless to say, the post-game camaraderie that rugby has come to enjoy was not shared by the two teams that afternoon. I read in last month's issue of Rugby of another violent occurrence between two high school teams on the pitch. This incident even sent players and spectators to the hospital. The referee, a former South African policeman, said it was the worst act of violence he'd ever witnessed.
Luckily, right now, I believe that these cases (in rugby) are few and far between. However, with managers kicking dirt on umpires, Football players pushing down referees and spectators attacking one another in all sports, it is only a matter of time before this pandemic spills over into the great sport of rugby.
As I stated in a previous e-mail, the infrastructure is already in place. Coaches, administrators, and elder statesmen of our game need to take up the cause of sportsmanship. This affects all sports, not just rugby. Of course, those of you reading this are involved in rugby, so that's where I'm focusing. We need to impress upon our young players that rugby is different. Besides teaching them the up and under, or proper scrumming techniques, we also need to instill the longstanding traditions that make our sport different than any other.
I promise you this, when my high school team starts up next spring, I vow to impress upon them the importance of sportsmanship. Each new player already discovers that rugby is different from any other sport. I'm going to complete that circle and show them that we're no damn soccer players!
I will leave you today with one quick experience that helped me see that our Rugby traditions of camaraderie are alive and well. Last weekend I was the vendor at a wonderfully hot 7s tournament hosted by the Kansas City Jayhawks. From a sales viewpoint it really wasn't a great weekend. Players would run for shade as soon as their games finished. However, the hosts of the tournament graciously made up for the slumping sales. In many instances, they went out of their way - not only to thank me for coming, but to show me how grateful they were for my attendance. One longtime member of the Jayhawks, Rick Renfro, was especially nice to my family and I. I don't think that it was just because we were vendors at their tournament. I believe that any rugby guests coming into town would receive the same treatment. We talked about high school rugby, he gave me a tour of his business, Johnny's Tavern- in Lawrence, KS, and (tucked in the corner of the second floor), the International Rugby Headquarters (Kansas Jayhawks Clubhouse). The adorned walls gave the appearance of a rugby museum/mausoleum. Thank you, Rick, for reminding me that I can go into almost any city in the world and find an instant friend that happens to be a rugby player (or a prostitute).
Hooker Rugby Supply