Indianapolis Impalas Prepare for USA Rugby National Championship

Writer / Melissa Gibson
Photography Provided

Fresh off of their win at the Midwest Rugby Championship, the Indianapolis Impalas rugby team is preparing for a trip to the USA Rugby national championship in Colorado this May.Rugby

As a global Olympic sport that originated in England, it’s now one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, and the second most popular sport in the world.

The Indianapolis men’s amateur team formed in 1969. They’ve had an amazing year, and it might surprise you to know just how many of the team members are graduates of Brownsburg High School (BHS).

Evan Roberts, president of the team, graduated in 2006 from BHS and has been with the Impalas for 17 years. Many others learned the game in childhood, played throughout college and found the Indy team in adulthood.

“During my sophomore year of high school they started a rugby team,” Roberts said. “I grew up playing football, basketball and soccer for Brownsburg, but I quickly fell in love with rugby. I felt like it was more of a complete game. Everyone can run, everyone can pass, everyone can score.”

By his senior year, Roberts was the first person at BHS to serve as the captain of the football team and the captain of the rugby team.

It’s not uncommon for football athletes to switch to rugby and vice versa. The games are similar, with a few exceptions.

In football, 11 players are on the field for 60 minutes. Touchdowns are six points and field goals are three points. In rugby, 15 players are on the field for 80 minutes. A touchdown, or a “try,” is five points and a goal kick is three points.

Another major difference in rugby? You can only pass the ball backward, not forward as in football.

“In football some guys are linemen and only a few players get a chance to score,” Roberts said. “I was a lineman in high school so that’s what attracted me to rugby. It was the chemistry among the team. We all have to depend on each other and there’s not those specialized positions.”

You don’t have to be a seasoned rugby player to join the team. Though it helps to have some athletic background, the men are willing to train others.

“We have some guys who didn’t start playing rugby until they came to us, so we have a developmental team that helps, and we’re able to give them some game time and it helps them get familiar with the sport,” Roberts said.

As with any amateur adult team, they count on feeder teams – those at the high school and college level developing skills and competing regularly.

“I would say the formation of youth teams has been a tremendous help for us,” Roberts said. “Back in the early ’90s, players started as early as the third grade with flag rugby, and at this point so many of our players give back to the sport by coaching younger teams.”

For many of the players, things have gone full circle.

Rugby“I coached middle school rugby for Brownsburg and two of those players are now my teammates on the Impalas,” said Sam Wells, a 2014 BHS grad.

Their ages range from 20 to late 30s, and like Wells, each can tell a story about their rugby roots – how they got started and those who mentored them through the process.

“I started playing rugby in 2014 after watching my brother and some of his friends win the state title in middle school,” said Brayden Goodnight, a 2019 BHS graduate and MVP of the Midwest Rugby Championship for the Impalas.

Zach Marsh, a fellow 2019 BHS graduate, also noticed the equal play that attracted Roberts years before him.

“I love how everyone on the field plays such a valuable part in the game,” Marsh said. “Anyone can be the star, no matter what position they play.”

Impala team member and 2011 BHS grad Ryan Barton agreed.

“In rugby you get to play offense and defense,” said Barton. “In high school football I played safety so I never got the opportunity to run the ball. In rugby you get the best of both worlds because you’re able to run the ball and you’re also able to hit people.”

As rugby continues to grow in popularity, Roberts said the team can feel it.

“I think there’s an excited community in central Indiana,” he said. “There’s a lot of connections in the local rugby community, and we have a large following of retired players, fans, and young players looking up to us as a team going to nationals. We want it to spread, and after competing in nationals in 2009, it’s exciting for me to have a new group of teammates who have never played at this stage before.”

The team members took some time off over the holidays, but are now gearing back up to prepare for the national competition.

They’ve even created a GoFundMe page for fans interested in donating toward the athletes and their trip across the country.

“We have sponsorship programs available too,” Roberts said. “We’re more than happy to bring company swag out to Colorado this spring.”

Most of all, many of the players still have roots in their hometown and know that fans are cheering them on.

Barton owns Eagle Highland Pharmacy, serving his hometown and surrounding areas. Isaac Good, 2017 BHS grad, recalls his name being left on the Blast Off Playground at Williams Park because his father was a member of the team that built it years ago. Roberts’ mother-in-law, Cindy Hohman, was recently elected to the Brownsburg Town Council.

The stories and memories run deep, as do the relationships the men have held onto through the sport they love.

“My favorite part of rugby is the brotherhood and camaraderie that comes along with it,” said 2018 BHS graduate Joey Sturgill. “I’ve met some of my best friends through the sport.”

Traveling to the national championship in Denver will be exciting but costly. The Indy amateur athletes aren’t paid to play, and will need to raise funds for the trip, including flights, hotel stays and more. To support the team, visit and search “Help the Indy Impalas go to USA Rugby Nationals,” and stay tuned for more excitement from the hometown athletes. Also check out

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