According to Borre, the Blues have had no shortage of success since the original team laced up their boots in 1972. It is just that the club can always use new players since it is now fielding four different squads: (1) mens team, (2) alumni club, (3) under 19 boys, and (4) under 19 girls. Steffenie Kehrer coaches the ladies.
If you havent ever seen a rugby game, you are in for a treat. A combination of soccer and American football, rugby teams field 15 players at a time and combine the hard-hitting contact of traditional gridiron action with the continuous running and teamwork characteristic of soccer. Think of Pele meets Dick Butkus without helmets.
As a former player myself (a couple of lifetimes ago), it is obvious that I have not come close to the level of fitness attained when I played rugby regularly. While attending the annual Cherry Pit Tournament recently in Traverse City, I actually bumped into two former teammates that appeared in as good or better physical shape than they did 25 years ago - Dan (Stump) Moore from Detroit and Mike (Dr. Death) Breczinski, formerly of MSU. Knowing Stump and Dr. Death, they have played all of these years primarily because of their love for the game, though, rather than any major focus on fitness training.
Coach Borre has been involved with rugby for about 20 years. He originally joined the club at MSU in the 1980s. Later he moved to Northern Michigan and played prop (a position akin to interior line in American football) for the Blues for several years before turning to coaching. Borre says the biggest change is the growth of rugby in Michigan high schools. There are about two-dozen high school-aged teams in our state (including the Traverse Bay Blues) offering the sport. Four or five graduates have actually helped stock the Blues mens team this year.
Yet, the Blues roster also includes Methuselah-types like Sam Mathews (45) and Dan Bruce (46) who are in good enough shape to play on the mens first team squad. The 27-man roster is an international recipe, made up of players of all ages from South Africa, England, New Zealand, and (of course) Northern Michigan whose day jobs range from students to professionals and everything in between.
A long way from their native South Africa, I found three exhausted ex-patriot Blues lying in the grass after a hard fought victory over the Fort Wayne, Indiana squad. Cornel Oliver attended Ohio State University and now works at Brys Estate winery near Traverse City. Coenraad Stassen is also a wine-maker from Capetown working at a competing winery, Chateau Chantel. Mathew Maritz, also from South Africa, is a full-time student in college.
For Stassen, the biggest difference between American and South African rugby is that the best athletes play football in the U.S. In America, the South African rugby players are welcomed
as saviors. In Capetown, hundreds of rugby players compete with the best athletes in the country and are fortunate to earn a spot on a decent rugby team.
Shaun Innes, originally from New Zealand, moved to Northern Michigan from San Francisco about 13 years ago. Upon his arrival, he was delighted to see a classified ad seeking rugby players placed in a local paper by long-time Blues player and rugby promoter Tony DellAcqua. Rugby is the national sport in New Zealand, but considered relatively unknown in the States.
DellAcqua is one of the most experienced ruggers on the team, having originally signed up with the Blues in the 1980s. After graduation from high school, he tried rugby with some buddies and loved it immediately. Well-versed in most of the back-line positions of rugby, he has performed at Division I levels in San Jose and while stationed in the U.S. Army.
The Blues have been a formidable foe on the rugby pitches of the Midwest. They earned a championship in 2003 on their way to an undefeated regular fall season in their eight-team league covering Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio. Winning aside, Coach Borre says that players are attracted to the discipline, sportsmanship, camaraderie, and of course fitness of rugby.
I would have to add one more benefit of rugby it is exhilarating to play. Having tried most U.S. team sports myself, nothing else comes close to the fun of playing rugby.
Even if you dont join the Traverse Bay Blues rugby club as a player, you wont be disappointed just showing up as a fan. The games are fast-paced and spectators are friendly. And the fun doesnt end with games completion make sure to ask someone where the perfunctory rugby party is being held. Rugby parties are legendary for their European-style insanity.
Information on Traverse Bay Blues rugby can be obtained by calling Tony DellAcqua at 231-499-7701 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The following home games will be held at 1:00 pm at Bowers Harbour Park in Traverse City. No admission is charged:
9/24/05 Blues vs. Michigan RFC
10/1/05 Blues vs. Tri City
10/15/05 Blues vs. Toledo