Men's Rugby Returns to Campus After Ten-Year Dormancy
This Saturday in Springfield, Ohio will be a momentous occasion for Oberlin as the freshly-revived men’s rugby team will test its cub-like experience at Wittenberg University. After ten years of dormancy, the program has risen and pushed back the stone of its unjust tomb to bring students the opportunity to partake in a very non-mainstream sport. The rebirth did not just come out of the heavens but rather was earned through hard work and determination by everyday students.
Sophomore Keith Yoder and first-year Nick Sippl-Swezey were two significant forces in bringing the men’s game back to Oberlin. For years, we all have enjoyed the fine, high quality play of our women Rhinos, who dominate every domain, but Oberlin is about including everyone, and these gentlemen wanted to have the same fun that the Rhinos were having.
Starting last year, with the efforts of then-senior Drew Farnsworth, Yoder and other members became interested in the idea of developing a team on campus. “All we really had were two rugby balls and an e-mail list. Most of the time only about five guys would show up to play and then it started getting cold and things fell apart,” Yoder said about his first college rugby experience. Even though early efforts seemed to fail, the dream was sparked and all it needed was care and attention.
Yoder and sophomores David Sokoll and Yuta Sugano believed in the dream. They met at the end of last spring and decided to give it another try. Last fall, Keith posted flyers all over campus about a general interest meeting and 17 guys showed up. “Of all the guys who came, only one is no longer playing. The best thing is most were freshmen and there were a significant number who had played rugby before.”
First-years such as Sippl-Swezey, who played rugby his senior year of high school, bring youth and experience to a program that had once had nothing.
After quitting basketball and baseball, Sippl-Swezey wanted to play rugby, a new sport with a new kind of people. “Rugby is an international sport and the people are more about having fun.”
Deciding to come to Oberlin was hard for him because he knew he wanted to play rugby and he had been looking at another school that was on the same level as Oberlin but had a rugby team. “I chose Oberlin because it seemed cooler, but I knew I would have to do a lot to get a team going if I really wanted to play rugby.”
The efforts of Yoder, Sippl-Swezey and others have not gone unrewarded. After a fall of learning, teaching and organizing, the team actually played a game last semester against Kenyon College. While the score did not favor the Oberlin Billygoats, the fact the game happened was an accomplishment, as it was the first in a decade.
“It started out as just putting up flyers and stepping on each other in the mud,” Yoder recalled, reflecting on the hard times. “We still step on each other in the mud but with nicer cleats.”
The team is self-coached, but they recently hired Paul Kukuca as their mentor. Kukuca is a local with a ton of rugby experience who has even sat on a committee to pick the USA Eagles team for a world cup.
The team has high expectations and is living the dream of a revived men’s rugby team. So, if you cannot make it on Saturday to cheer these warriors on, then come thank them on Saturday, April 7, at 2 p.m. (after the women’s match), as they re-open their home fields against the much-despised Ohio Wesleyan University.