Willamette rugby players discuss the development of the team and their recent trip to Europe. (1:45)
Willamette rugby plays internationally on tour of Scotland and Ireland
It's tough to miss them on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Walk anywhere near the Quad and you'll hear the yelling and chanting, see the students pushing each other across the field in a battle for the ball.
They're playing a game most of them had never experienced before coming to Willamette: rugby.
Rugby has existed off and on as a Willamette club sport since the late 1960s. Stephen Scott '10 initiated the current campus team during his freshman year.
"I really enjoy the community aspect of rugby, which is why I wanted to start it here," says Scott, a rhetoric and media studies major and the team captain. "We have a diverse group of players from all social groups coming together on the rugby field."
After just four years of building the program, the Willamette Rugby Football Club took its game to international fields this spring, playing teams in Ireland and Scotland during a weeklong tour.
"We learned to play this game on the Quad, this small field in Oregon, and this spring our team played the biggest university in Scotland right under a monument to William Wallace," says Behzod Sirjani '10, a rhetoric and media studies major. "It was a life-changing experience."
The idea for the trip hatched after Scott studied for a semester in Ireland and played with the Belfast Instonians. Twenty-five players, two coaches, a faculty advisor, two administrators and several supporters went on this year's tour.
The students played against the Instonians in Northern Ireland and the University of Stirling team in Scotland. They also attended a major professional rugby tournament in Dublin, participated in a training session with Irish coaches and explored historical sites in Edinburgh, Scotland.
"The students witnessed a Dublin that is modernizing very rapidly, they saw Belfast, still deeply scarred by social and religious tension, and they enjoyed the medieval castle city of Edinburgh," says history Professor Bill Duvall, the club advisor. "In a very quick series of days, they were able to experience something that Willamette prides itself on, and that is international education."
This was the first time many of the players had been to Europe, and it sparked a stronger interest in international history and culture.
"I learned that while those countries have their own social and political problems, they still know about America's ongoing political dialogue," says Andrew Monbouquette '10, a rhetoric and media studies major. "The disparity between their knowledge of us and our knowledge of them was eye-opening."
Although the Willamette players lost both matches, their opponents - who had many more years of experience - taught them new ways to approach the game.
"I grew so much in my understanding of rugby, while simultaneously learning about cultures I had never experienced," says Scott Hirschberger '10, a psychology and economics major.
The Rugby Community
Many of the players joined rugby for the challenge of learning a sport that may seem confusing - and a bit rough - at first glance.
"My favorite thing about playing rugby is the physicality of it," Logan Brooks '13 says. "I feel a sense of pride knowing that I gave a rough sport my all and came out on top."
After each match, both at home and abroad, players from the two teams gather for a meal and social event. This sense of camaraderie appeals to many of the students.
"No matter how hard you play against your opponent during a game, once you leave the field, you are all friends in the larger rugby community," Scott says.
"We have an Old Boys game at the beginning of the year, where we invite back alumni to play against the current team," says Stephen Branch '11, an international studies and Spanish major. "It's great to know that you're not just part of the team until you graduate. You're always connected to Willamette rugby."