Going to the maul

While they don’t sport the numbers that local gay softball and bowling leagues do, Nashville’s ruggers make the most, and then some, of what they’ve got.

Indeed, the Nashville Grizzlies Rugby Football Club, which launched in 2006, has been growing in popularity from the beginning. Every year has brought a new bit of legitimacy for the team, from being admitted as associate members of the International Gay Rugby Association and Board as a USA Rugby Division III club to last summer’s dark-horse victory at the Bingham Cup tournament in Dublin, Ireland.

These days, the team numbers around 30, with a very healthy, 45-member auxiliary providing backup support for everything from field prep to game-day first aid, ticket sales and other fundraising efforts. The team practices three times weekly at the home pitch, or field, at Nashville State College’s Dept. of Safety campus on Foster Avenue. That’s quite a time commitment, but it’s necessary when considering the rigors of a two-part season that includes both home games and journeys to cities that to date have included Washington, Charlotte and Atlanta.

“It takes a lot of time and commitment, because we do have team dues and have to raise money for the trips we take,” said Jon Glassmeyer, the team’s current captain. “We usually play three home matches and two or three away matches, so it’s a pretty full schedule.”

For Glassmeyer, who joined the team in early 2007, the initial goal was just getting some exercise. It quickly turned into a passion; something he says is pretty common amongst the team’s diehard members.

“I thought it would be something different, which has certainly been the case,” he said. “But I found that the team is composed of some really good people, and that the game itself is very challenging and a lot of fun.”

A lot of fun, and a lot of rules, or laws. Laws for passing, for hitting, for falling down. And then there’s the terminology: the field is a pitch, the referee is “sir,” and you’ll hear plenty about scrums, rucking, mauling and the occasional Zulu, an eye-catching tradition that involves running and nudity.

The Grizzlies also boast a very healthy auxiliary, comprised of partners and other supporters who have no wish to take to the field, but aren’t at all opposed to lining it before a match. Heading up that effort this year is Scott Ridgway, who notes that the group is much more than a cheerleading outfit.

“The auxiliary has always been very active, and because we’re very organized we’re able to help with the fundraising by selling memberships, and also help out the team before and after the matches by taking care of the field, setting up the first-aid tent, even the things like carrying water to the field. It’s all important, and with all of us doing that the team can focus on the match.”

For Coach Toby Florek, who has been playing and coaching since 1992 and took over as the Grizzlies’ coach in mid-2008, the team’s organization and commitment have come as a very happy surprise.

“They have been willing to let go of the wheel and listen to what I have to say and then putting that into play,” Florek said. “It’s a challenge, learning a new sport, but they are very motivated. It’s a challenge to make practice three times a week, but they make the time. You couldn’t ask for a better group of guys, which has been helpful for me as a coach but also for recruiting and growing the club.”

As it continues to build on its success, the Grizzles club has to look no further than the wall of Tribe, its home bar, for inspiration. There resides the Bingham Plate, won at the 2008 Bingham Cup, named for gay rugby player and Sept. 11 hero Mark Bingham. Despite a spate of last-minute injuries, enough Grizzlies were able to make the trip to Ireland last summer where they joined forces with another team, the World Barbarians, and set the pitch on fire, going undefeated in seven matches over three days. The plate represents one of four divisions in the overall tournament.

“Just the fact that we got to participate in something like that, with people from all over the world,” was amazing,” Glassmeyer said. “And then to win? It’s priceless. Walking off that field after the last match was a highlight of my life. To do that as a team, with the most disparate bunch of guys you’ve ever put together, was just amazing.”

For more info: http://www.grizzliesrugby.org/Grizzlies/Home.html

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