It’s often referred to as the British equivalent of American football — colossal mistake. Tear off the helmet, rip off every sort of protective padding and get slammed with only a thin jersey, shorts and cleats on. Then you’ll get a feel of what the sport of rugby is about. And that’s just skimming the surface. It’s the ultimate contact sport, driven by the pure force of unadulterated manpower — and in some cases, womanpower. In a state swarming with die-hard sports enthusiasts, rugged Alaska is a prime location for the sport with a fierce reputation.
The Alaska Oosik Rugby Union, part of USA Rugby, started small in 1973. Today, four men’s teams are based in Anchorage. There is a University of Alaska Fairbanks men’s team in Fairbanks and a men’s team in Kenai. There are also two women’s teams: the Anchorage Arctic Foxes and the Fairbanks Ravens. The AORU is in the heart of the season right now, with the Manu Bears and Arctic Foxes of Anchorage on top.
The AORU’s overall growth seemed stagnant for years, but lately it has generated more interest. Players say it is because ESPN recently aired the National Sevens Rugby tournament in Las Vegas, attracting more attention to rugby all around the United States. Rugby sevens will also be a part of the 2016 Olympics for the first time. Another reason for the increase in popularity is simply that more players are moving to Alaska from countries where rugby is widely played, a majority of which come from Samoa and Tonga. Despite that, teams are always looking to recruit new players. Rugby team fliers are always plastered on bulletin boards throughout our campus.
When asked why she would play a potentially bone crushing sport, Marisa Glieco of the Arctic Foxes said, “Why not.”
“It’s a sport that requires lot of finesse,” Glieco continued. “It’s more than broken bones, black eyes and blisters. It shows that women have strength.”
Glieco has been playing for 15 years and considers her team her family. She enjoys the camaraderie that comes with it.
Jaime Spatrisano, a team captain for the Arctic Foxes, is finishing her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology here at UAA and has recently been accepted into the Ph.D. program. Having played for seven years, she loves hitting the field on her spare time to burn off energy after studying for hours behind a desk.
“You don’t have to be hardcore to play rugby; anyone can play. Either it’s for you or not,” Spatrisano said.
Training for women’s rugby typically start twice a week in February. Locations vary. Their first tournament starts mid-may and their last tournament is part of the Oosik Championship August 18 and 19. Spatrisano highly encourages women to try out the sport even if they are inexperienced. Those interested can email firstname.lastname@example.org more information.
The men’s rugby season typically kicks off mid-May with the Mother Tucker Tournament. Regular games and tournaments are played throughout Alaska. The season ends with the Oosik Championship tournament as well.
During off-season in the winter, both men and women players play touch rugby in the Dome to stay fit.
There isn’t little league rugby or high school rugby here in Alaska, where one could gain vast experience. Tim Snider, president of the AORU said he is actively working on changing that by possibly starting up rugby teams in schools throughout Alaska. He is driven toward securing rugby’s growth and presence.
“Next, I plan on sending the women’s teams to their first Rugby Sevens Tournament in Vegas, 2013,” Snider said.
Like other teams, Nilet Tuimalealiifano coach for the Spenard Green Dragons, currently has players who either just graduated from or who are still in high school.
“My focus is on the youth right now. Us players who come from countries like Samoa grew up with the sport. We have the experience and skill, but these kids come with heart,” Tuimalealiifano said.“It doesn’t matter the background, I’ll teach them if they want to learn.”
Some of these up and coming players plan on attending UAA. Could UAA have a place in Alaska rugby, just like UAF does in the future?
Cameron “Cam” Vivian, former president of and long time board member of the AORU , said joining is a painless process.
“The issue we’ve had with UAA is that students leave school (and town) during rugby season, but if you stick around in the summers, take the opportunity to come and get involved! Log on to our website (www.rugbyunion.org) and click on the team logo of any team you would like to join and give them a call. It’s for anyone!”
But if you’re skittish, stay home.