If I were a Rugby man, which, thank the lord I’m not, sir, the kind of man that I would be … well, hang on. I was a Rugby man, once. A long time ago.
That first bit (in italics) was from one of the many Rugby post-match party songs, sometimes every bit as important as the games themselves. My first Rugby club, John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, used to proudly claim that, while we may lose a game here and there, we never lost the party afterward.
It was a long time before I realized that every rugby club made that claim.
There is a Belizean point to all this. And it is not that we love beer and any excuse for a party.
I was happily surprised to learn today that a network of seven-side rugby clubs is being set up all around Belize, including San Pedro. Seven-side is the shorter, faster paced version of the traditional game. Seven Side Rugby will debut as an Olympic game in 2016 in Brazil.
It might seem like a crazy dream to have a Belize Rugby team in the Olympics, but not an impossible one. And I think most people living in Belize are big fans of crazy dreams.
And the dreamers who come up with them.
In this case, that would be author and rugby fan Tony Gillings who is spearheading the national network of seven-side teams. In a recent statement, Gillings said, “Rugby Belize plans to focus on the development of rugby sevens as a forerunner to growing a full regular (15 man) team, and prepare to enter Belize into the next Commonwealth and Olympic games.”
I’d like to think that rugby sevens would have strong appeal in Belize. It is fast-paced. There is room for players of all sizes, and there is a certain amount of what P.G. Wodehouse called legalized “assault and battery” on the field. And I’ll bet there are a few soldiers at British Army Training and Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) who might be able to help get a Belize league off the ground.
I fell so in love with rugby as a young man that it took the place of schooling for a while, long enough for me to drop out of college – just ahead of being drop-kicked out by school administrators. John Carroll was a small Catholic school but in rugby we held our own with the likes of Note Dame, Ohio State, Michigan and Georgetown.
A year later, while wandering the streets of Washington D.C., I happened upon a rugby club practicing on a field in Georgetown. It was an improbable collection of future diplomats, Marines from Quantico and street hippies, like me. Our team won the first-ever Cherry Blossom Festival Seven-Side Tournament, on the emerald green fields between the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial. We were also Class B Champions in the Mid-Atlantic Conference.
Our strategy was pretty simple: Get the ball to the Marines – they never go down.
Ten years later, as a newspaper editor with two young sons, I tried resuming my career in Connecticut and ended up in a hospital emergency room. I didn’t need to be told twice. Around that time the U.S. was getting serious about rugby and Budweiser sponsored the Eagles. I traveled to Hartford, Connecticut, to watch our boys play the All Blacks, New Zealand’s legendary Rugby Union team.
As the Eagles got off their bus, I felt the real thrill of a fan. Hollywood couldn’t come up with so many flinty-eyed, square-jawed, broad-shouldered supermen for a movie about rugby if it tried. Our time had come!
When I left the stadium, the U.S. was down 100-0. Maybe it was a team made in Hollywood.
Starting in 2007 and for several years, the IRB world series seven-sides tournaments were held in San Diego’s PetCo Park, bringing in teams from all over the world. And I went to every game that I could manage.
It is worth noting that teams from tiny island countries like Fiji and Samoa are perennial seven-side contenders.
So, you can do it Belize!
San Pedro has a perfect field for rugby, even if it is hard-packed sand and not grass. I for one am looking forward to the first tournament to be played on Ambergris Caye.