Men’s rugby team’s enthusiasm endures through snow, cold weather

The Kansas State/Fort Riley rugby football club competes in the snow against the University of Missouri-Kansas City during their Fake Patty's Day Tournament on March 11, 2017. (Leah Russell | The Collegian)

No amount of bad weather could have stopped the Kansas State/Fort Riley rugby football club from having a good time on Fake Patty’s Day in a tournament against three different schools’ rugby teams.

“It’s not just a sporting club that we play here,” said James Elder, president of the KSUFR rugby football club and junior in animal sciences and industry. “We live it as our lives.”

The players’ enthusiasm for rugby kept the team playing during the snow and cold weather, KSUFR club coach Mike Duncan said.

The team played at Frank Anneberg Park on Saturday morning against Pittsburg State University, the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the University of Central Missouri in a round-robin tournament. Each team played its opponents in “fifteens,” the traditional 80-minute game involving 15 players per team, and in “sevens,” a variant of rugby involving seven-minute halves with seven players per team.

Although the weather was around 30 degrees Fahrenheit with snow and strong winds, Duncan said it was fun and an extremely successful day for the team.

After a rugby tournament, it is tradition for the opposing teams to come together for a social.

“That’s the unique thing about rugby,” Elder said. “You just get together, have a great time, drink some beer and hang out.”

Elder said this team knows how to have a good ‘ole Fake Patty’s Day social.

About the sport

Rugby is a rough game and is not for everybody, Duncan said. Elder said as a game fixed on possession, getting hurt is almost inevitable.

“It’s a brute’s game played by gentlemen,” said Matt Lucas, member of the team and special undergraduate communication studies student.

Much like American football, the game of rugby consists of constant physical contact. However, instead of stopping after every play as in football, the fight for possession continues for 42-minute halves between each side, Lucas said.

The overall experience of playing rugby is rewarding, Duncan said.

“It’s a good thing, playing sports at the university level,” Duncan said. “It makes better citizens, Kansans and Americans for people to partake in these activities.”

History of KSUFR rugby

“The KSUFR (rugby club) is available for anyone to join,” Duncan said. “If you can get enough people to play and make a team, there is no looking back. That’s the way rugby has grown since it started in England.”

With the rules of rugby invented by the players themselves, the players have also overseen forming their own teams and finding others to compete against. The club was established in 1971 and started as a partnership with Fort Riley.

“A couple of guys from K-State and Fort Riley got together and formed a team,” Duncan said. “That is why the team’s name has always been the KSUFR (rugby club). We’ve always had a relationship with the guys from Fort Riley because they were some of the first guys to start rugby here at K-State.”

Making friends, learning lessons

To the players, rugby is more than just a game. The team is very connected as a brotherhood and as a sport, Elder said, teaching life lessons and creating a bond that has lasted for generations.

“This is the means to becoming a better person, not just the means to being a great rugby player,” Duncan said.

As an element of the sport, the players must decide what they want to do and are required to do it themselves.

“The important thing at K-State is you learn how to get better and you implement that plan on a weekly basis,” Duncan said. “We manage our own destiny. If we don’t like the way things are going we can change them.”

Support system

The alumni are an excellent support system for the KSUFR club, Elder said.

The team receives some funding from the university and has great support through the facilities, but a great deal of funding comes from generations of rugby players coming back to support the team, Elder said. Players from two to three decades ago have come back to K-State to assist and participate in the KSUFR club’s annual alumni game, played on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend at Memorial Stadium.

“For me when I graduate and become alumni, that’s something that I’ll try to do as well,” Elder said. “Make sure that I am still involved in helping the current club members.”

Another tradition at K-State is for players to become the future coaches of the team.

“It has pretty much always been the way it is at K-State,” Duncan said. “We have either current player-coaches or former player-coaches.”

Duncan is an alumnus of the team and began playing for K-State 35 years ago. In 1989 when he faced a knee injury and could no longer play, he started his coaching career.

The season so far

Halfway through the spring season, Elder said the team is looking strong and he feels confident about his team this year.

“The future looks bright for us right now,” Duncan said. “We are planning on going to the national tournament and winning some games.”

The KSUFR rugby club will have one last home game against their rival, the University of Kansas, on April 1.