Did you see Invictus yet? In this Golden-Globe nominated flick, rugby becomes the healing metaphor for post-apartheid South Africa. As Nelson Mandela and his fellow countrymen cheer for their losing team, the players start winning and erase their color lines. It’s a real upper, actually!
While hardly on the same grand scale, rugby is also a sport-with-promise in Oakland these days. Local boys in grades 8-12 have an opportunity to join the Oakland Warthogs, which was founded only two years ago. This club team practices and plays matches in the Bay Area youth league.
“High school is the perfect age because they are very open to learning things and have the physical tools – size and speed – to implement your instructions,” explained Mike Spencer, one of the Warthog coaches. “The great challenge in rugby is getting a team to talk and work together on the field. Smarter teams beat teams with more brawn and physical gifts all the time.”
Several times weekly, the coaches lead players in core skills like passing, running onto the ball, and setting the ball so it stays with their team. Since communications are key, the high schoolers are encouraged to cooperate and work closely with each other on the field.
Rugby’s an amazing game, based on moxie. Coach Spencer declared that “if you are not willing to tackle that guy who outweighs you by 100 pounds, [you have] no business playing rugby. The great teams play with heart and for each other. Once the whistle blows, it is up to the players. It’s like high-speed, full contact chess.”
We’ve watched rugby players and believe their camaraderie can’t be beat. In Oakland, high schoolers have a special chance to learn the ropes and then play at a competitive level. However the rugby club is a start-up, which still needs sponsors to equip players, pay league memberships, and find places to practice. It’s time for us to help them.