Making Their Mark
The Brownsburg Rugby Club Is Growing and Thriving
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Members of the Brownsburg Rugby Club, the oldest club in Hendricks County, are celebrating the club’s 20th season. Curt Trout and three of his friends started the club in 2002. All four of the coaches had played at either the collegiate or semiprofessional level, so even though they took 25 male players who had never seen a rugby ball before, they taught them well.
“The kids were like sponges and really soaked it up,” says Greg Strange, whose son Jeremy played on the inaugural team. That first season the team went undefeated, advancing to the semifinals before losing the state championship game. It was an impressive feat that no first-year team had ever done. Season two was effectively a repeat of season one, with the team advancing to semi-state before feeling the sting of defeat.
In 2011, when the last original coach stepped away from the club, Jeremy was asked to take over the team. He was honored to do so and was preparing the team for the 2012 season when, tragically, he was killed in an accident on March 13, 2012. The season was due to start March 17. His viewing was on March 16, which would have been his 26th birthday.
Many describe Jeremy as the heart and soul of the Brownsburg Rugby Club. That’s why they still incorporate him into everything they do. Their jerseys include his initials. In addition, they created a commemorative rock at their former field, located near Cardinal Bark Park. Plus, each March they hold a memorial breakfast at Flap Jacks.
“It’s a way for us to get together as a rugby family to remember Jeremy,” says Paris January-Cole, club president. “Those players who played with him or were coached by him come out in force for that breakfast.”
Today rugby continues to bring people together in wonderful ways. Brownsburg student Abriella Ellis had been cheerleading for 11 years when, one day, a friend encouraged her to try playing rugby through the Brownsburg Rugby Club. Though she was skeptical at first, she gave it a try. After just one practice, she was hooked.
“The very first thing I noticed was how kind all the girls were to me,” Ellis says. “I showed up and they welcomed me so warmly. I never went back to cheer again.”
So, why try rugby? The reasons are endless. For starters, anyone can play. Any body type. Any skill level. Any age. Any sex. Rugby is an inclusive sport that is not reserved for the fastest or the fiercest.
“The game of rugby utilizes all shapes and builds,” says senior Mikey Cabreros, boys high school captain. “You don’t have to be crazy fit or hugely muscular.”
Nor is the sport reserved for those who have been playing for years. For instance, Ellis, who is now captain of the girls high school team, jumped into it during her freshman year.
It’s also not about promoting any individual as a star. It’s a pure team sport. Anybody can touch the ball, anybody can score and anybody can play any position on the field. In rugby, all 15 players on the team are utilized, each with a distinct role.
“You’ve really got to work as a team, trusting the player next to you to do their job,” says Dave Kaahaaina, the high school assistant coach for the boys team.
This team mindset helps to differentiate rugby from other sports.
Kaahaaina says good people make good rugby players.
“Winning on the field is important and working hard is important, but success off the pitch is more important than anything else,” Kaahaaina says. “That’s why we emphasize values such as preparation, authenticity and trust.”
The rugby culture is such that the athletes play hard for 70 minutes, then share a meal and fellowship afterwards.
“We do socials after each game where both teams come together to eat,” says Lisa Peterson, Brownsburg Rugby Club high school team liaison. “It builds camaraderie.”
Breaking bread together is a way to celebrate the game, not the win.
Additionally, there is no specified time frame in which a student can try rugby.
“We welcome kids to come check out a practice all season until playoffs begin,” January-Cole says. Conditioning for the spring season starts in January. Games begin in April and run until the first week of June, depending on whether the team makes the playoffs. Registration for the fall season opens in August. The fall season wraps at the end of October.
This past summer, the club invited second- through 12th-graders to try rugby for a week at no cost, to learn about the sport and gauge their interest. Because the Brownsburg Rugby Club is a club sport, it’s not affiliated with the Indiana High School Athletic Association. This means students from other communities can join. Therefore, they have had students from Tri West, Pike, North Central and Danville.
Colton Voyles is a Brownsburg Rugby Club alum and current boys high school head coach. He says he’s not found another sport through which the community is so bonded.
“If I’m at the airport or at a restaurant and I’m wearing a rugby shirt, someone will inevitably stop me and ask me what position I played and then tell me about their experience,” Voyles says.
That community aspect is precisely what draws so many people in. “What tends to happen is kids come check out the sport and have such a good time that they invite their friends to join,” Voyles says. “When we can get kids out on the field, they typically stay.”
In addition to being fun, rugby is an effective form of exercise.
Prior to rugby, Cabreros used to wrestle and play football. When he took up rugby in fifth grade, he quickly realized the value in playing the sport.
“Learning how to use your legs to drive and tackle is so beneficial in doing takedowns,” Cabreros says.
Voyles has seen athletes slim down significantly, simply from all the running.
“We had a kid who lost 50 pounds,” he says.
Though many students are still being introduced to rugby, the sport’s popularity has increased in recent years, partly because rugby sevens debuted at the Olympics in 2016. Plus, more teams and clubs exist these days, and more scholarship opportunities are available as a result. The Brownsburg Rugby Club has had a number of athletes go on to play college or pro rugby.
“We just had one of our former players play on the U.S. national team this past summer, another who played on a pro team in Seattle, and a former coach is now playing on a pro team in Australia,” Peterson says.
To learn more about the Brownsburg Rugby Club, visit facebook.com/brownsburgrugby.