You are beside yourself when they’re born. You love watching them grow, even when they’re next to impossible teenagers. You’re there to cheer their achievements and console them in their disappointments. You spend countless hours watching them compete in sports. You guide their life choices as best you can. You give them everything. You have such high hopes, and when they go off to college, you think they’ve made it. They’ve found their way. But what do they do?
They become rugby players.
Now I’ll admit to some hypocrisy here. I once played the game. Well, not exactly. I went to the first practices, one spring about 35 years ago, where it was all conditioning. As a runner, I sprinted uphill first. These rugby guys lacked my lung power. Then lithe, I left those lugs in the lurch.
Alas, lung power isn’t what makes a great rugger. You need to be a little crazy. No, a lot crazy, and not only appreciate, but enjoy pain. We started to scrimmage. What made me think I wanted to play a game where they hit each other without benefit of helmets, shoulder pads and commonsense? Getting hit – or worse trying to hit someone weighing 75 lbs. more than you coming at full speed and with a demonic look in his eye – was bad enough. But then being on the bottom of a pile not only crushed but suffocated? No, it wasn’t worth the camaraderie later. I returned, broken and battered, to the loneliness of the long distance runner.
But there my wife and I were this spring on fields in western Pennsylvania watching our middle child, Hunter, putting her surgically repaired shoulder into some 200-pounder and getting crushed, while we wondered where we went wrong?
Lady ruggers are, well, first, they’re not ladies. Ladies don’t play a game where key features are “scrums,” “rucks” and “mauls.” At the half of one match, as a team came off, the bits of conversation I heard as they passed by would not be called lady like.
“Did you see the shit that ass hole was doing?” queried one dainty damsel.
“I just punched her fuckin’ face,” demurred another.
No, they’re not ladies.
But they certainly like each other. Yes, women rugby teams are comprised of a number of lesbians. Which is fine for the men’s team members, waiting for their match and cheering from they sidelines . Although judging from the guys’ comments, which they being ruggers, were more like grunts, I wasn’t sure if they found the ladies sexy or cute — like watching puppies play, compared to the men’s dog fight.
But absent the sexual intrigue, it was just like watching our daughter when she played basketball or soccer. And she made us proud when she scored on the team’s first possession. But it wasn’t a goal. It was a try.
(For the uninitiated and (un)unwashed, the term “try” comes from the early rugby rules, when putting the ball down over the goal scored no points. It merely gave you the opportunity to try to kick it through the goal posts for a score. I’m not sure when the rules changed so that the scoring was more like American football. But I’m pretty sure I know why: to completely confound newcomers as to why they use such an understated term for several points, more than for the kick afterward. I’m not even sure how many points a try gets you. Then again, you’ll recall I never got passed the conditioning.)
The rules are mystifying. Being a college club team, it must have a chaperone. For Hunter’s team it’s a woman who looks like she could have played the game herself. Might even still. I asked her about the rules, and she claimed ignorance. She’s been the chaperone for many years, she said, but still didn’t know most of the rules. Must be a good paying job to completely dissolve your sense of the least bit of curiosity.
In any case, it was a glorious day. Brisk, but sunny. Hunter did well, and she survived. This was the third trip we planned to see her play. The first one we drove in a pouring rain to Philadelphia, my home town, where both physically and mentally, most of the guys are qualified to play. And about 40 percent of the gals, too. When we arrived, one girl was on her knees in the middle of the mud puddle that once was a rugby field. It was Hunter with her first separated shoulder. Yes, there is a reason I had to number it. I did mention it was surgically repaired? The second trip was canceled when in a scrimmage where they were short players, she tried to tackle a 210 lb. guy who volunteered to fill in. (Guys don’t care if it’s gay ass or not, they’ll volunteer for the chance to grab it – and it’s within the rules!) Separation number 2. So at least the day was successful for what it was not followed by — a trip to the emergency room.
Her shoulder repaired, she’s still at it and considering joining one of the local amateur teams to keep playing when she graduates next year. We saw another game this month. They lost, but it was successful in that she suffered only a broken nose. Surgery was less painful and there’s no physical therapy involved. How do you exercise a nose?
Because rugby matches must be followed by much more beer than I can hold these days, we bypass the post-match celebrations. Hunter has found her first community of friends she truly trusts. They play hard, both during and after the match. Some of her teammates have traveled abroad as missionaries and have inspired Hunter to consider the Peace Corp or Teach for America. Her grades are good. She’s only been arrested once. Maybe we did good after all.
Then why does she play rugby?