By Matt Tunseth
For the Redoubt Reporter
Whether you’ve got a knack for knocking people around or are an artist of elusiveness, the members of the Kenai River Wolfpack Rugby Association want you to join them in their hunt to bring the sport to the Kenai Peninsula.
“The biggest thing right now is just getting the word out and getting people here,” association secretary Brendyn Shiflea said after a spirited indoor scrimmage last week at Soldotna Middle School.
Rugby arrived on the peninsula late last summer when a small core of ruggers began practicing in earnest at the Soldotna High School football practice fields. Association president Fred Koski, a bald-headed, bowling ball of a man who learned the sport in the military and played in Anchorage before moving to Kenai, started handing out fliers last July.
“I kinda put my toe in the water to see how much interest I could generate,” he said.
About a dozen core team members showed interest in the sport, and there was enough momentum generated that Koski was able to start a club and continue playing the sport indoors during the winter, thanks to its inclusion in the So
ldotna Community Schools program. Shiflea, one of the first players to
join the club, said that even though rugby is a contact sport, it also lends itself well to being played “touch” on a gym floor.
“It’s good to keep in the rhythm of the game and helps a lot with ball control,” he said.
The final indoor session of the season will be held tonight at 6:30 at the middle school. Both male and female players are welcome to play the fast-paced, cardio-intensive sport.
“Women’s rugby is actually the fastest growing women’s sport in the United States,” Koski said.
Starting next Wednesday, coed “touch” rugby will move outdoors to the SoHi practice fields. It’s free and anyone age 14 and up is welcome.
As for the more rough-and-tumble version of the game, the club is seeking new players in hopes of eventually fielding a full
22-player team (15 on the field plus alternates). He said the sport is attractive to anyone who has an interest in playing a contact sport that is actually far less dangerous than one might imagine.
“Rugby tackling is more of a technique, it’s more like a wrestling takedown,” Koski said.
And, he said, there’s a position for just about any body type or build.
“As long as you have an open mind and are willing to try something new, there’s a spot for you on the pitch,” he said.
The rugby club is more than happy to teach the game to new players. At one of its recent indoor sessions, the team was more than willing to help a rookie learn the game, stopping during the scrimmage several times to point out basic rules, which are really quite simple.
Players explained that the team in possession of the ball has the goal of scoring a “try” by running into the end zone and touching the ball down. In order to do this, the team with the ball runs and passes it (backward passes only) down the length of the field while trying to avoid defenders. If the ball is dropped or an offensive player commits an infraction, the defense takes over and heads the other way. Ball possession, Shiflea said, is everything.
“It’s really not that complicated to figure out,” he said.
Outdoor, contact rugby practices will be held Mondays at 6:30 p.m. and Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. throughout the summer. The club plans to play in at least one tournament this season, and is hoping to get enough new players out to play in more. Tournaments are more fun, Shiflea said, because of the increased competition level and, of course, the famous after-game camaraderie.
“We’ll definitely be pounding a couple brewskis afterward,” he said.