From May to August

The main activity for me while others were playing Sevens was to heal up from the two torn tendons and the sprained ligament I got from the South Jersey match. (An MRI confirmed that this was the problem.) It took 2 1/2 months before I could run without the tendon twanging across the ankle bone, but the orthopedic surgeon was surprised that I was able to run again that quickly. He also told me to take it easy getting back into rugby, and to quit if my ankle starts talking to me. So... I may be taking a few more "Old Boy passes" than last season if problems occur.

Much the same thing happened to a younger fellow in the club, Chuck Coleman, and it took him months to be able to run again as well. So this appears not to be an age thing.

Tuesday Evening Practice, 3 August

Geez, it's hard to believe it's that time again, and that I've been involved with rugby for a year now!

The first night of practice was warm and humid, and we did a variety of runs and drills. No doubt about it - my pace and fitness have suffered for having had the ankle injury. I was lagging in most of the runs and wimped out from a shuttle run. (I'm not quite ready to inflict sudden stops and starts on the ankle yet - toward the end of practice it was starting to get sore, and I was afraid of further injuring it.)

But - I was there, and did most of everything. And I'll continue to attend practice and improve. My ankle will heal more, I'll rebuild confidence and have fun. And especially, I'll be thankful that I can once again take part, no matter at what level!

Thursday Evening Practice, 5 August

A better practice than Tuesday, despite the fact that I didn't do half of the shuttle run. (Reason cited above.)

Funny thng happened - I was generally slow and pokey for the first half of practice, then picked up some speed and endurance towards the end. By the final ten minutes or so I was sprinting without much effort. And the very last thing we did was a sprint across the field, which I really put out for.

Okay, so I beat some props and a few others... hey, it's early in the season!

We did some really good rucking and mauling exercises and all got banged up. Eric Wheeler - one of our alpha locks - got a gash under one of his eyes by a stray stud.

Tuesday Evening Practice, 10 August

We did less general fitness stuff than I expected for a Tuesday, although we did do HFS (Harpold's Fitness Salon) and runs.

I got a stud in the forehead in one rucking drill: I couldn't get my arms up to shield my face in time and took a nasty gash above the left eye, proving once again that the ground is a bad place to be during play. Another fellow, Mark Hrycay, an aplha hooker, took an elbow to the head and got bloodied. It must be open season on the Tight Five.

So now people at work are going to be endlessly asking what I did to myself; how tiresome.

Give blood - play rugby.

Thursday Evening Practice, 12 August

We got very, very sweaty. Harpy seemed irritated and impatient a lot of the time so we did a lot of punitive push-ups.

We did some line-out practice. Ned taped up the scrum machine but we didn't use it. We did that funny drill where we ran around the track clutching onto each other's shorts and picked up and placed the ball. (We did this in the snow last season as I recall.)

That's about it. We were sopping, wringing wet when done.

You'd think with all this running and sweating I've been doing since July I'd lose some weight, but that hasn't happened. Weird.

Tuesday Evening Practice, 17 August

One of my worst sessions of practice in a long time. It was hot and humid, and I had very little energy and just couldn't seem to cool down. So I wimped out of drills and runs... the "hurdle the dead" drill we did was a real killer! I was there until the end, but I just didn't give 100% this time. My rugby mentor/advisor/physiotherapist Kelly Watkins says to drink plenty of water during the day and to not drink caffeinated drinks, which tend to have a dehydrating effect. Since I always do well by taking his advice I'll do so again to see what happens.

In play I caught a kicked-off ball and retained possession - I'm always happy when my fumbly hands allow me to do that! - but later I tried to stop one of the hardest guys in the club (Larry Wollach, a South African) with my left pointer finger and bruised it. Now it's sore, again. (It never really got better after getting banged last season.) So it's back to taping up fingers before play. As I write this the morning after the knuckle is swollen and, well, rugby is tough.

Thursday Evening Practice, 19 August

Didn't go to practice tonight, sanity prevailed. (My finger got swollen and sore.)

Tuesday Evening Practice, 24 August

Good practice - we did some scrum sled work tonight, and I was lousy at it. I obviously need the practice after being away from the scrum since April. (It also didn't help that the other lock was Harry Donovan, who is very fit and athletic but only weighs under 200 pounds.)

What's really, really, annoying is having people continually tell me to keep my butt down in the scrum. Duh, I know that. Doing it is sometimes a different matter. I'm heavy enough to pull a prop down if I lose my balance while trying to extend my legs too far, which sometimes happens. But, being tractable and modest, I will endeavor to do better next time!

I'm taping my sore finger to the one next to it to help immobilize it, which is a trick I learned in my first season. It's still sore, but not so swollen. It makes hoisting jumpers in lineouts a pain, though. One of these days, all these sore, banged-up fingers are going to heal...

Got mentioned during the "viewer mail" segment of Championship Rugby Sunday night. I wasn't aware of this because I was on vacation, but the guys told me when I arrived at practice. Cool! Click here to read what happened.

Thursday Evening Practice, 26 August

A wild night of practice! We were throwing the ball around in a downpour, and we got very muddy. It was fun! After all, mud is my friend. Anyway, we did an extended session of opposed, light tackle, play. More of the same on Saturday, I'm sure.

Saturday Morning practice, 28 August

I'm not a morning person, and I'm certainly not a morning rugby person. Anyway, it was warm and humid, I didn't eat, and found myself running out of gas during the scrimmage. (A "scrimmage" is when Suburbs divides into two sides and plays itself.) It's probably a real good idea if I carb up before games and get plenty of fluids; these hot days are getting to me. Certainly, going into rugby practice fasting was a bad idea I'll not repeat again! So - not a terribly good practice, but hey, I was there. (I was thinking up excuses not to show this morning. Two of them were, 1) "I'm an old boy," and 2) "I'm on vacation.")

Also, we ran four punitive laps for dropping balls during a handling practice. I don't respond well to that kind of thing.

Tuesday Evening Practice, 31 August

We did some rucking and mauling (full tackle) drills. Why is it everyone heads for me and not the guy standing next to me when I play defender? I must resemble a big, comfy sofa or something... anyway, I am sore.

It's getting dark at 8 PM, which is tending to shut down practice. It won't be long before it's once again time for the lights and generators.

Thursday Evening Practice, 2 September

An unsatisfactory evening of practice for me. It is now obvious to me that, despite two months of running and practice, the fitness I had built up last season isn't returning. While it is true I am not typically doing all of every drill in practice, I am still working hard (my tee shirts are usually wringing wet with sweat at the end of practice) - to little effect. When I started the South Jersey game in mid-April I weighed 249 pounds. I had gained ten pounds (!) when I could begin running again in early July, and today, after two months of fitness work, I still weigh 259. It's very depressing, all the more so since I am not aware my eating habits are worse than they were.

Welcome to middle age, I guess.

In semi-opposed play this evening my scrummaging really sucked, and we were getting driven back consistently (and hard) by the a-side. It's certainly true that we haven't had enough practice at this so far, but the first game is Saturday. I certainly don't want to be pushed around the field by James River - this, more than anything else, I would find disappointing.

There were a couple of times when I felt some fairly stiff pressures exerted on my dodgy ankle, but it seemed to hold without the tendon slipping out of place (which indicates a tear). I guess that brace I wear now really helps - I probably should have been wearing one all along.

Anyway, rugby doesn't tolerate excuses well, and so I plan not to be making any when I begin my b-side match.


The a-side lost 33-14, and the b-side I played in got whipped, too. But James River traveled with perhaps 18 players (they didn't have many more on their own pitch last year), so we played some Suburbs a-siders and recycled James River a-siders. Also contributing to the loss, of course, was the fact that we didn't play especially well - I certainly didn't. It was sort of an off-form game for me, but it was fun. The pitch was wet from rain and at the end it began pouring. In fact, the ref called it over before the end of the third twenty minute period. (It was a three twenty-minute period match.) But I really prefer playing an honest-to-goodness b-side.

We need to practice scrummaging - despite the fact that River was barging - as they did last year - we were in bad form. I don't enjoy getting pushed around in scrums at all.

The best thing about this match was that Pete Rossi came up with a nickname for me: "Brigham," later taken up by Matt Clark. It fits. (You don't find a lot of Mormons in rugby clubs.)

Tuesday Evening Practice, 7 September

A really disheartening, cowardly, tired, lazy and all-round crappy practice on my part. I arrived half-beaten already, and let the humidity finish me off. I took part in most of the running drills for about an hour and then quit. Right now I feel like I should have just crept away from the field with my tail behind my legs and not even let anyone see me.

It's too damn early in the season to be doing this. Thursday must be different.

Wednesday, 8 September

In the depths of despair from my lazy performance at Tuesday's practice, comes this from Art Steffen, the Old Boys Chieftain: "Now Wes, why would you want to play Old Boys? You had a good game on Saturday. Actually, I am glad to have you, but I think that the young guys will be disappointed. A few really good things were said about you on the sidelines on Saturday: 'He's a hard worker; following play and making no mistakes; tough one like a bull...' to name a few."


Thursday Evening Practice, 9/9/99

I remember 8/8/88 (My boss decided in a meeting that day to send me out to California on a business trip), 7/7/77 (I was in the Marines; nothing happened, I merely noted the day) and 6/6/66 (My fourth grade teacher mentioned it and predicted we'd see many other odd numerical dates like this). The next is 1/1/01. What has this to do with rugby? Nothing.

Practice was wild! After a downpour just before we started, we were doing line-outs, the scrum sled and scrimmaging to the accompaniment of thunder, the occasional lightning flash and lowering clouds. It was very dramatic. We stopped a bit earlier than usual because it looked like a real howler was on the way. Anyway, I took pains to shove a lot lower and harder in the scrums and to not repeat my limp-wristed performance during last week's game, and got a reddened and sore shoulder for it. But that's okay, credibility has a price.


The a-side lost 35-21 (they were leading by 21-7 at the half) and the b-side lost 29-3, for about the same reasons as last week: we're playing a lot of our own guys, and some of them are a-siders. (United arrived with about a side and a half.) It was a better game for me pace-wise than last week, but we were still getting driven in the scrums, and there was little I could do about it. Maybe it's me, maybe it's Cormac (the other lock), maybe it's the front row - I don't know. But we need more scrum sled work... getting shoved around a pitch for an hour is sore, sore work. WSRFC Old Boy Buzz McClain was the ref.

It was a good day for rugby. The weather was sunny, clear and not to hot with a breeze. I got a sunburned face.

However, Suburbs couldn't afford to lose this match - our two toughest sides - Raleigh and Norfolk - are still ahead of us.

Good party afterwards.

Thursday Evening Practice, 16 September

I didn't go to practice on Tuesday night because I had "Back to School Night" with Meredith's teacher.

Hurricane Floyd blew by in time for us to practice tonight. The pitch was wet, and it was windy - which is nice weather to run in, really. Refreshing, after the heat and humidity of summer. Neither of the coaches showed up, so we did some passing, line-outs, scrimmaging and a bit of fitness (the dreaded Indian Run). "Not a half-bad practice," according to Captain Matt. My weak ankle got sore, I don't know why.


We Old Boys beat the Rocky Gorge Old Boys in their inaugural match 24-22, giving the club our first win of the season. The SOB's do pretty well - in eight games, we've only lost two, and one of those was to our a-side in an alumni match. The a-side didn't do as well this weekend, though, losing 8-15; no doubt about it, we're in trouble now. Our toughest matches - Raleigh, Norfolk and Washington Irish - are still ahead of us.

Anyway, my game was okay but I hurt my lower back somehow. If it happened in the scrums I don't mind at all because we pushed the Gorge boys wherever we wanted - so the pain is worth it!

I took off after the Old Boys match to be at Coach Lyster's wedding, which was fun. So I missed out on a b-side win of 33-7!

Thursday Evening Practice, 23 September

I didn't go to practice on Tuesday because I thought it would be a good idea to give my back some rest before this weekend's game. Also, Julie had a back-to-school night, and last but not least, our pet mouse died the night before and the household was generally inconsolable, so I spent some time hugging sobbing children and a sobbing wife.

I stopped into Matt Godek's rugby store to buy some replacement studs for my boots on the way to practice, and the guy at the cash register remembered I was with Western Suburbs to give me a 10% discount. He then said, "Hey! Aren't you Wes Clark?" I admitted I was, and he said, "I saw you mentioned on Championship Rugby on TV - how's your ankle?" If someone had told me a couple of years ago that a clerk at a rugby store would identify me as a player from a mention during a televised game, I would have thought him nuts. Life continues to astonish.

There weren't a whole lot of people at practice this evening, which creates some doubt as to how well we'll be traveling for the Raleigh match. I may even be playing some a-side; I hope not as my pace and endurance are badly off compared to previous seasons. If called upon I will, of course. But this season I am content to be a b-sider and Old Boy. Besides, the club is better served during matrix matches by having younger, fitter players play.

We started with touch rugby 7's because of poor attendance, then, as more people arrived, we did some rucking and running. Nice cool weather.


We traveled light, and I played a-side for about 35 minutes until the left part of my lower back entirely gave out - I was afraid something like that would happen, and had warned Harpy (the assistant coach). Apparently, one week wasn't enough of a rest after the Old Boys injury, because after a number of scrums - in which we were doing well - at first I found it difficult to push, and then hold a bind, and finally just to get into position. I knew I had to go off when one engagement entirely threw my half of the front row backwards - it was the most embarassing moment of my rugby career thus far. Anyway, I slowly hobbled back to the shade and found that I couldn't bend down at all, not even to untie my boots. The pain was considerable (just sitting down was a major effort) but 1.2 grams of ibuprofen cut the discomfort enough for me to watch the b-side match and drive home. Saturday night was painful, and as I write this on Monday morning, I still can't touch my feet without bending my knees, and getting in and out of cars is a slow process.

We got beaten 45-6 in the a-side match and 35-0 in the b-side game. The first half I played was quite good - we held them and played well. Things started to fall apart when I left the field (only a coincidence) and they scored. But Raleigh is a very good side - they were the Division II-South champs last fall - and we did our best with what we had. I, personally, am glad I made the effort despite my weak performance. I now feel that I am gaining a reputation within the club of being present when I say I will, which is nearly all the time, and of having a good work ethic.

However, as at the South Jersey match, I was cheated out of a full regulation match as an a-sider. Oh well. Glory awaits on another pitch on some other day, I suppose. And the experience is fodder for my next Rugby Guide article.

Thursday Evening Practice, 30 September

My first thoroughly social practice session. I arrived, laced up, ran four or five laps and chatted while others in the club played touch rugby. (I don't like touch rugby; there are no line-outs or scrums to enable 40+ year old Tight Fivers to catch their breath. If rugby were only touch or 7's, I wouldn't be playing.) Afterwards we stopped at Godek's to check out the touring kits the Ireland/Wales travelers will be using, and went to P.J.'s, where the older ones among us had retro conversations about Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope. Sheesh!

My back is still sore, about at the level it was a week ago. So while I'll be at practice next week I may not want to really push it...

Tuesday Evening Practice, 5 October

I've been dealing with a head cold for the last couple of days, and wasn't really up for all the running we did tonight. In fact, while stretching after the initial two laps a mouthful of undigested macaroni from dinner came up. I quickly swallowed it back down, yum. (I never promised that this journal would be easy to read, Gentle Reader.) But, it was a good run nevertheless, despite the fact that my pace is badly off, as it has been for most of this season. Hung in there for Harpy's Fitness Salon in the dark, and did an all-out sprint to end. We did some scrum sled work - the two man drop and push drill - but, mindful of my back, I didn't take part. It was refreshingly cold tonight. It's time for the lights and generators again, and the seasons change and slip away...

Thursday Evening Practice, 7 October

We did some rather different things tonight, and I got to kick the ball a couple of times. (Normally forwards aren't allowed to kick.) At one kick, however, I nearly took a player's head off with a low fast kick and was told to leave the kicking position, which I did in mock disgrace. We did Harpold's fitness stuff in the dark, which is really all we can do in the dark.

Tuesday Evening Practice, 12 October

A good practice tonight. We did ruck and run, lineouts and scrums, and the fitness salon as forwards - which I like because I can keep up better. Whether or not that's better from a fitness point of view is moot, but from a spiritual point of view it's everything. I'm a forward. Forwards run as a pack and are most effective when we support each other closely. This is trained into us in forward-based practice and runs.

Significantly, we didn't have many people out to practice. It seems others in the club are writing this season off and over (at least until we play home games). Not me, I intend to see this season through.

Harpy said I'll be starting again in the Virginia game, most likely. I have mixed emotions about this. On one hand, it's an honor. On the other, I may only be able to do a half if my back starts aching again. Well, this will be another interesting Saturday!

Thursday Evening Practice, 15 October

We did our two laps and as much ruck and run as possible while we still had light, then had a pep talk about how important it is to beat Virginia this weekend. We adjourned after only about an hour, and headed to P.J.'s, where Forrest White seemed to be busting my chops for being Mormon. I wasn't prepared to discuss the details of church doctrine in a bar (after some have had a few beers), so I took my leave.

I think we're actually going to beat Virginia this weekend...

Match against Virginia RFC, Saturday 16 October

Well, we almost beat them. The score was a painful 17-18; the game was lost by 1) poor play on our part and 2) some pretty bad reffing. (At times this fellow couldn't even get out of his own way and obstructed our players, not to mention being blind about opposition players going over the ruck, dangerous play and offsides.) I didn't play at all - we had a fairly good turnout of players and the coaches elected to use a younger, faster lock rather than me, which is okay. We needed the best side we could muster for this must-win match. The fact that this fellow doesn't show up for practice nearly as much as I do is a little galling (and makes me wonder why I attend practice so often), but I might as well be an adult about it and forget it.

Virginia only brought 15 players to their own home game. When one had to go out we supplied them Ringknocker - at least he didn't score a try on us! There wasn't really a b-side match for me to play in, per se. The best they could do was muster up seven recycled players for 7's, which I have absolutely no interest in. Actually, they tried to beg off a b-side game entirely but we wouldn't let them. And why should we? Our a-side, when travelling light, has played many tiring recycled games. Anyway, a brand new player made two tries at his first game - one was a gift, but there was no zulu (the naked run around the track). An argument erupted between Captain Matt and Kelly on this matter, pretty much cinching this match as the Bad Karma event of the season. It was pointed out that these tries could have been mine, but when my time comes it'll be in a proper 15's match.

So... now Western Suburbs is on the very bottom of the Division II South standings, 0 and 5. We have two home games left, against two strong teams, and we are quickly heading to an end-of-season relegation match (called the "Toilet Bowl") with the top Division III team .

Oh well, the after-match party was pretty good, and I got a free cheeseburger out of it.

Tuesday Evening Practice, 19 October

Practice is getting shorter and less intense due to the lack of light. (For soem reason we're not using the lights and generators.) Being 0 and 5, I'm not sure shorter, less intense practice sessions are such a good idea. Anyway, we did a couple of tackling/passing exercises we haven't done in a while, and some scrum sled work for the forwards. Jimmy "Tackles" Thompson is going over as a (psychopathic) flanker - this might be interesting - so far his tackling has been measured on the Richter scale. We've recently been encouraging him to wrap so as to avoid irritating the ref.

Tonight another rugby first: I led the stretching exercises. Opportunity and future greatness await me now, no doubt.

Thursday Evening Practice, 21 October

A fairly big turnout - you can tell we're playing home games again!

We did some ruck and run and work at the scrum sled. I think my back is fixed, now, but only a game will make that clear, and we have one this weekend. We also did some lineout work wearing sneakers on the pavement behind the Dunn Loring school. Doing hoist after hoist on concrete is no fun - there's too much of a jolt when the jumper lands. (It can't be any fun for him, either.) Where was Coach Lyster? I don't know. He seems to be detached from this season. Afterwards we went to P.J.'s, and I got "the look" from Cari when I arrived home. Yes, the season is close to an end.


The a-side lost their match against Norfolk's a-side 26-14, which means that we're headed for a relegation match against (probably) Blacksburg on 6 November, according to Mid-Atlantic RFU bigwig Eric Pittekau, who visited our match. The agonizing thing was that they played really well in this match, and were ahead until they imploded at the end. (The Blues scored 13 points against us in the last few minutes of the game.) The Blues only brought about 20 guys, so it was recycled a-siders against our b-side - a familiar story. We got beaten 32-0. These days, if you want to win in a Suburbs side you have to play Old Boys...

Despite the score, this match was just plain fun. The weather was cold and breezy, which is better weather to run around in. Nobody got injured, and two new fellows played their first match this day. I played about as well as I ever do - perhaps better. I managed to wrest the ball away from opposition players twice in this match, once in the initial kickoff. And, best of all, my back gave me no problems. I played the right lock position - next time I'll play left for awhile, too. And my fitness was fine, as it should be this late in the season; I had no problems getting to breakdowns quickly. (Well, "quickly" for me!)

No after-match party. I went on a dinner date with Cari and some friends, and later that evening we found ourselves in a Shiners auditorium watching an Elvis impressionist.

Thursday Evening Practice, 28 October

I didn't go to practice on Tuesday because I had an officers meeting on Monday. This late in the season, my going missing twice a week gets on my wife's nerves, so I thought I'd skip a practice.

We don't have a relegation game after all; Blacksburg decided they didn't want to have to drive 3 or 4 hours north to play the other Division II clubs, so the pressure is pretty much off of us.

Anyway, for practice tonight we did some ruck and run and some time on our old friend the scrum machine, and that was it. The whole thing lasted about an hour. Cases of beer were brought out at the end, and after some drinking (I had water, of course) we drove up to P.J.'s for food. End of practice. I'm sure I'll miss this in about a month or two from now, but now... it's time for the season to end.

Someone sent me e-mail this evening to tell me that a mention of my Rugby Reader's Review web site is in the current Sports Illustrated! Cool! (Click here.) Two years ago, if somebody told me something I did would appear in Sports Illustrated I'd have thought him stark raving bonkers.


Cally by Harpy "the Last Match of the Millennium." (Overlooking next week's Old Boys match against the Poltroons.) The "Irish" (no telling what their real ethnic makeup is - I saw some black player who looked like they were not ethnically from the Isle of the Saints) came in force, so we had a real, honest-to-goodness b-side to play. And we beat them 17-15 in a great come-from-behind game that owed four points to the boots of prop/lock/flanker Tom "Colonel" Loesel. I played okay - perhaps not as well as last week because it was somewhat warmer. But it was fun and it's certainly great to win once in awhile.

The a-side lost their match 38-14, making Suburbs' Fall record 0 and 7. Ouch!

Viewing of the 1999 Rugby World Cup final (6 November 1999)

Cari and I were guests of Frederic Bardot and the French Government as we watched the match in an auditorium in the French Embassy, which was a really cool experience. Le Fred brought his wife Heidi, and Dave and Sara Lyster went also. Anyway, we all stood and sang "La Marseillaise" when the players did, which was awesome. (What a rousing song; I can see why they burned the Bastille.) Sadly, the French lost 12-35, making the Australians the world's champions - and another Southern Hemisphere name gets inscribed (now twice!) on the William Webb Eliis cup...


Played on the appropriately-named Gravelly Point, where the dirt is hard and rough and tackle abrasions are common. We beat our arch-rivals 17-5 on a pleasant, cool windy day. I played pretty well, I reckon. No injuries, but no try, either. The Suburbs Old Boys are now 8 wins and 1 loss in the past three seasons!

Potomac Rugby Union Select XV vs. New Zealand Ambassador's XV - 13 November 1999

It was nice to watch a match rather than play one - especially when there are New Zealanders involved. They were in their black kits, and performed a haka before and after the match, which they won by three points. Afterwards there was a reception at the New Zealand embassy, which Cari and I attended. There some Western Suburbs people at both activities; at the reception I talked to professional rugby writer Buzz McClain about getting articles published.


There was a big build-up to this match on account of a grumpy e-mail one of the Irish Wild Geese had sent out, accusing us SOB's of not being any fun, having a crappy ref and engaging in head-butting. So, we showed up with plenty of guys who could play second row - including Stax, who left us for greener pastures earlier this season - and some really good centers. The result was that we won 17-10, which makes us 9 and 1 in three seasons and unbeaten in 1999. (If one doesn't count the Alumni match.) I played the first twenty minute period, stood out the second, and came in for about 13 minutes of the third when I got kicked in the head so hard I was dazed for a minute or two. That does it - I'm buying a scrumcap! Anyway, the weather was nice and the game was fun.

And so the season - and the rugby year - ends. I played lots of a-side, b-side and Old Boys - as much as I could. Got injured three times (torn ankle tendons, kicked in forehead, strained back), got back on the horse and played again. No trys, though. Oh, well. As Scarlett O'Hara once said, "Tomorrow is another day!"


Click here for the fourth season rugby journal.