Club rugby team gives opportunities

Tessa Voytovitch, Reporter

Rugby is not the most popular sport in the United States, since it often gets overshadowed by American football. However, high schoolers in the western suburbs still appreciate it to its fullest by playing for the West Suburban Bulls rugby club.

Lawrence Zeno was a football player his whole life, when he eventually got involved with rugby at Northwestern University. After retirement from playing, he started the West Suburban Bulls, a high school rugby team, in 2011. The team consists of players from LT, Hinsdale Central, Nazareth Academy, and more, yet competes against high school teams such as Brother Rice and Saint Ignatius.

“Having kids from all walks of life and from various schools is a true asset for these players,” Zeno said. “They learn that it’s not their school affiliation that holds them together, but a common purpose and respect for their teammates.”

The club has a varsity level team for juniors and seniors, and also a frosh/soph level. Many of the players started out their rugby careers playing for the elementary and middle school club, the Barbarians, Zeno said.

“A lot of us have played with each other since fifth grade, so we all have a pretty good connection,” Jack Bergman ‘20, who plays for the Bulls, said.

The sport involves a lot of athleticism, communication and contact. It is played without any padding, which allows for better mobility, Kevin O’Connell ‘20 said.

“The contact and intensity of the sport is definitely comparable to football,” O’Connell  said. “I’d say rugby is a bit more intense since it’s a continuous game and you’re not stopping every play like you are in football. It really tires you out.”

Some players on the team joined rugby after quitting their former sports. O’Connell decided to play after quitting soccer his freshman year, he said.

“I think with the coaching that we have, it is pretty easy to learn a position and figure out how to play it,” Bergman said.

Rugby is growing in popularity. This year, the Bulls have almost 50 players on the team.

“We seem to be adding a few more teams every year at the high school and middle school levels,” Zeno said.

The team won the Division II rugby Illinois state championships in 2015, the fresh/soph state title in 2016 and third and second place in the division the last two years, respectively.

“As I say our players at every practice, ‘if it’s worth doing, it’s worth giving 100%’, Zeno said. “This is especially true in such a physically demanding sport such as rugby.”

The Bulls’ first match is April 4. There is no experience required to play on the team.

“You have to be a tough kid when playing rugby,” O’Connell said. “You have to be willing to do what it takes to get the job done.”