Sports: Full Contact

Although once thought of as a rough-and-tumble game played mainly overseas, our community has worked to redefine the image of rugby. As the Edmond Rugby Club made its mark on local teens within the last three years, up to 25 high school students from Edmond, Deer Creek, and even Putnam City caught the fever.

Their team, Edmond Storm, is making a difference in these teen’s lives.

“It’s not all about winning, it’s about learning and respect,” says Coach Greg McFadden. “Our first priority is teaching the right technique.”

The sport’s appeal is different for everyone. “For me, it’s the culture. It’s the camaraderie. It’s the friendship,” McFadden says. “You can travel all over the world and play it, and that’s what brought me here.”

Originally from New Zealand, McFadden came to the United States 15 years ago to coach and play rugby for the Oklahoma City men’s team. “I had played in London for a couple years before that and was looking to play overseas again,” McFadden says. “I ended up coming over and enjoying it. I liked this place, so I ended up staying.”

McFadden often culturally educates the team beyond the simple rules of the sport, including the haka, a Maori war dance the boys perform before each game. He is grateful to the city for their support of the program.

“The city of Edmond has done a lot for us,” McFadden says. “We are the only team in the state to have our own field. We have two fields.” The fields are on the west side of Mitch Park. “The city has expanded the parking lot for us, added another field, put bleachers in there and water. They’ve really helped out.”

Oklahoma is where McFadden met his wife, Whitney, who is now sponsorship manager for the team. They live in Edmond with their seven foster dogs, which are from the Central Oklahoma Humane Society.

There are 10 other teams in Oklahoma and a state championship is held at the end of the season, which runs from early February to late April. The winner of the state tournament proceeds to regionals, where they play against teams from Kansas, Missouri and Texas before a national tournament in May. Over the summer, the team plays touch rugby once a month, and once school starts, they resume full training.

Rugby is uniquely different than other field sports like football or soccer. All members of the starting 15 wear shirts numbered from 1 to 15 to indicate their positions (though alternatives exist). The first eight players, known as forwards or “the pack” will generally play in the scrum, while the remaining seven players serve as “the backs.”

This means a player does not get a personal squad number for an entire career like most American sports, where jersey numbers often mark the “retirement” of many famous athletes.

Rubgy is played in 150 countries and is the second largest team sport behind soccer. McFadden says there are currently 300,000 registered rugby players in America, which is a relatively small number compared to the sport’s popularity in the rest of the world. “You don’t see a lot of rugby here, so for me, it’s a thrill to have rugby here and be able to do something with it,” he said.

Each player has a fixed role with specialist skills for that position. Each team uses the same formation of players, with only minor variations. In this respect, rugby is quite different from football, which has entire playbooks with various formations to call.

Rugby is treated much differently in New Zealand, where it is the national sport. “It’s more of a religion over there,” McFadden says. He started playing the game at age 5 and attended a private school where rugby was mandatory. Later, he played for the New Zealand “Under 19’s” rugby team.

McFadden’s father, Les McFadden, has been volunteering on the administrative side of rugby for more than 50 years and was honored by the Queen of England for his service to the sport. Les will be a liaison for the Scottish team at the next Rugby World Cup, which is held every four years and will take place in their home country of New Zealand in 2011.

The Edmond Storm participates in a variety of volunteer activities, including setting up the start/finish line for the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon. “We try to give the kids a bit of leadership training. It’s about more than teaching them rugby. We try to prepare them for when they leave school,” McFadden says.

Edmond Rugby Club coaches McFadden, Mark Young and Tom Dickins, lend their time on a strictly volunteer basis. Future plans include hosting a state tournament soon, and possibly an exchange program with Argentina or Arizona. McFadden also wants to start a men’s club due to interest from potential players too old for team Storm.

For more information about the Edmond Storm, visit www.edmondrugbyclub.com

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