Fort Rucker Fliers rugby team poised for comeback
Fort Rucker Flier Nick Zeitler tries to gain possession of the ball from the Tallahassee Conquistadors at the Fort Rucker Fliers rugby game Sept. 15.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 11, 2012) -- There are numerous sports teams on Fort Rucker for everyone to enjoy, but the developing Rugby Fliers, a rugby team that was at its peak in the 1990s, is making a comeback.

The team is looking for new members to add to its roster for the 2013 season that premiers in January. Though the sport is less familiar in the U.S. than in Europe and Africa, Tim Commerford, DOA civilian at 110th Aviation Brigade, thinks that military and civilian rugby will soon make a comeback in popularity in North America.

"Military rugby took a hit after 9/11 because so many Soldiers deployed. In the 80s and 90s it was a really big deal. The military held a national tournament each year. It's regaining ground now since the war in the Middle East has settled down, though," he said, adding that in 1992 the Fort Rucker Fliers won the military national championship.

The new team began with a few players kicking around the ball on the rugby field next to Beaver Lake, but Commerford said that more and more volunteers showed up to play creating the ability to revive the old team.

"We have enough interest now to start an official team, but we are still short players. We have around 12 guys that are regulars, but we need 10 more to have a solid team," he said. "We need more players because of the turnover that Fort Rucker experiences. You need 15 guys at a minimum to play sanctioned games."

The fall is the unofficial season where teams come together to test each other's skills, but the official season runs from January to April with around eight home and away games with a few additional tournaments, said Commerford.

"Rugby is a combination of football, minus the pads, and a little soccer. The key to rugby that separates it from other sports is camaraderie and that the game runs on a continuous clock in two 40-minute halves," said Colin Schwalm, Headquarters Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 10th Aviation Regiment.

Rugby will return as an Olympic sport in the 2016 Brazil Olympics. As rugby becomes more mainstream Schwalm believes it will hook American viewers and athletes.

"Now that rugby is picking up steam in the states we hope to help nurture it in the southeast. It is really slow here because football dominates sports. The benefit of that, though, is a lot of football players are crossing over to rugby [for several reasons] so our caliber of players is phenomenal," he said.

No experience is necessary to join the team.

"We will teach anyone who wants to learn. Prospective players only have to provide rugby shorts and rugby cleats. Players can wear soccer cleats as long as they do not have a toe spike," said Commerford.

The team is unique with its variety of players, which Commerford and Schwalm believe will help create other teams especially since it is the only team within 100 miles of Fort Rucker.

"Our players really range -- whoever is interested can join. Currently we have players that are 16 years old and we have civilian surgeons also," said Schwalm.

Though anyone is encouraged to practice with the team and play games in the fall, official team members must be males over the age of 18.

"If you are a Soldier you have to get permission from your chain of command to play, and if you're a civilian or military you have to register with USA Rugby and pay a $45 entry fee. That fee covers liability insurance for sanctioned events. There is also a seasonal fee for the spring that covers food, travel and equipment," said Commerford, adding that if anyone is interested in joining to attend a practice where the team can help with the steps to becoming an official player.

Teens, 15 to 18 years of age, and females can practice with the team and play in the fall, but cannot play in the official spring season, but steps are in motion to start a youth and female team.

The dangers of the sport are a misconception, according to Commerford, who has played for more than 30 years.

"In any contact sport you will have injuries, but since there are no pads there is only so much damage a person can deal out. I can only run into another player's head with my own head so many times. It's not as fast as football either, so the impacts are not as great in the first place. It's all bruises and an occasional cut eye. It is very unusual to break a bone, tear a muscle or get a concussion," he said.

Both men encourage people to come to a practice to see for themselves how "infectious" rugby can be.

"Rugby is so fun to watch because it's not like soccer. You're not waiting hours for a single goal. There is so much action and so many moving parts to the sport," said Commerford.

"If people come and watch a game or even give it a try, they won't be disappointed either way," said Schwalm.

The next scheduled home game is Oct. 13 at 6 p.m.

Interested parties can reach team members at Wiregrass Rugby on Facebook or by attending a practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 6 p.m. at the rugby field.

Page last updated Mon October 15th, 2012 at 00:00