By ALEX MULHALL – STAFF WRITER
If you look at the US News’s top 50 ranked liberal arts colleges in the country, Centre is the lone school that does not give its students the opportunity to play organized rugby. Visiting Instructor of English and rugby enthusiast William Weber is looking to change that.
A graduate of Sewanee University of the South, Weber played on the university’s rugby club. The sport is ingrained into the athletic culture of the campus.
“The club was actually founded in the 1980’s,” Weber said. “Based on my most recent visit, it seems to be as strong as ever.”
Rugby is an interesting sport that sometimes gets a bad rap for being too physical or violent. This is due to America’s lack of actual exposure to the game. The images that make their way to our Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, and therefore become American’s cultural definition of the sport, are usually showing the more extreme side.
“Rugby is definitely violent, but the violence is channeled into the gameplay,” Weber said. “To play the sport well, you have to be aggressive, but that aggression is controlled by the rules better than most sports.”
Some critics of the sport point to the lack of protective equipment as a reason they believe it to be unsafe for competitors. This, too, is an unfair criticism.
“Rugby actually has a lower incidence of injury than football,” Weber said. “The lack of padding actually keeps players from tacking each other at full speed because there is no buffer between people. Tacking someone is going to hurt you as much as it hurts them.”
Bringing the sport to campus has been a bit of a challenge, but progress is being made. A meeting with Athletic Director Brad Fields and the College Counsel has allowed for the tentative formation of a club team.
“For now, we cannot engage in full-paced, full-contact rugby or schedule matches against intercollegiate competitors,” Weber said in an email.
However, the club will be allowed to advertise, recruit, and practice on campus. Weber’s eventual goal for the club is to become as prominent as the other members of the National Small College Rugby Organization, the equivalent of Division III rugby.
Some of the schools in this organization are members of the Southern Athletic Association, the division all other Centre athletics participate in. Weber is a certified coach who believes that after a few months of practice, Centre will be able to compete with schools around the region.
The prospect of the club sports is intriguing to many students on campus. More than 20 Centre students have expressed their interest in participating in a rugby program.
Senior Andrew Ledford, who hasn’t played in organized athletics since playing football in high school, is intrigued by the addition of a rugby program at Centre.
“Clubs sports are a lot more flexible than other organized sports, so I’d definitely be interested,” Ledford said. “And rugby seems to be pretty close to football, so that’s even more interesting.”
For now, Weber will focus on training a core group of players in the rules and intricacies of the game.
“We’ve got the ball rolling now so hopefully, we can become established and get a team together to compete by next spring,” Weber said.
If you are interested in joining the rugby club at Centre, there will be recruitment and informational meetings coming soon. Be on the lookout for posters and emails.