When I was in my early 30’s, I felt like my life was stagnating. My 20’s had been all about crafting a family and some stability. I had a wonderful wife and two amazing children. I had a career, a house, and life was pretty rosy...except it had stalled out. Was this really it? Was the rest of my life going to be nights in front of the television and weekends mowing the lawn? (I know, bad Buddhist! Be content!!!!). It just felt like there had to be more.
Michelle and I attend the Pride parade each year. Some of my best friends and the most important people in my life are gay. So Michelle and I go each year to support and be allies. We have always taken the girls with us in the hopes that they will grow up to be loving, tolerant people (with a love for musicals and sequins). When they were little, they would call it “the rainbow parade”.
In the summer of 2006 the whole family went to the parade. We found a spot where the girls could be up front and see everything. There was the usual array of community groups, businesses, and gay bars represented. Then around the corner came a rowdy group of guys dressed in red, tossing a ball (and each other) into the air. Rugby! One of the players spotted me in the crowd and gave me a flier. “You should come play rugby with us,” he said.
As we walked back to the car, I couldn’t shake it. Play rugby? I had toyed with the idea a few times in the past but had been unable to find a club that was willing to take on a newbie (especially an “old” newbie). Here was a team that wanted me to play! A few weeks later I went to the “new recruit” meetup and the rest is history. Rugby forced me to push myself to do things I never thought were possible. It opened my eyes and showed me that there was a lot more in me. I had more to give, and more to live.
Fast forward to years and rugby is back in my life. Rich, my rugby buddy who lives in Sheffield, and I decided that we needed to go see the Mother Pitch. So we piled into the Rascal and headed for Rugby, England.
According to legend, William Webb Ellis “showed a fine disregard for the game of football” when he picked up the ball and ran with it, thus changing the sport forever. His addition to the game came to be known as “Rugby rules football” after the school where Webb Ellis attended. What solidified the sport and allowed it to spread rapidly from location to location was the publication of rules, written and published by the students. These rules were bound in small booklets which the boys carried on the pitch (there were no referees at the time). Because the rules were a: written and b: able to be easily transferred from person to person, the game spread like wildfire.
Rich and I drove the hour and a half south, only getting turned around six or seven times in our quest to find a gas station. It was interesting to listen to Rich talk about his experience coming to rugby. While his experience was unique to him, the notes were the same. The sport gave him a sense of community, while helping him find an inner strength and extermination he did not know was there. It took him from a low place in life and helped him find new highs. Rugby has that kind of power.
We wandered the streets of the little town, marveling at the gorgeous school. We visited the museum dedicated almost entirely to the history of the rugby ball itself. Rugby balls are still produced on the same site where the first rugby balls were made back in 1823. Wandering the museum, Rich and I were both struck by the deep sense of history we were both a part of. The brotherhood of rugby reaches far and wide.
We meandered along the streets, both of us giddy.
Eventually we made our way to “The Close,” the sight of Webb Ellis’ fateful decision. After a little sweet talking to the gourds keeper we were allowed to wander next to the pitch and take some photos. (When he wasn’t looking I ran on the pitch…). It was beautiful! I have never been on such a well-kept piece of grass. Imagine golf course-level upkeep, but for rugby! I can only imagine what it would be like to play on that pitch!
Unfortunately the school bookstore was closed, so I missed out on purchasing a Rugby School kit. However, I did pick up a “test cap” at the rugby ball museum. I’ll be wearing it proudly after future matches!
We were a little disappointed when the internet said that the recently-opened Rugby Hall of Fame was closed. However, as Rich and I were looking for someplace to grab a bite to eat (the “happy hour” curse followed us to the town of Rugby!!!) we found the Hall of Fame. Much to our surprise the doors were wide open! We practically sprinted inside before someone realized they were supposed to be closed and shooed us out!
Only open since November of 2016, the Hall of Fame is as much a shrine to the global interconnectedness of the sport as it is to the players themselves. There were exhibits on important people, places, and events in the history of rugby, as well as artifacts dating back to the 19th century. For a sign reader such as myself, I was in heaven. I soaked up every morsel. I was a little worried that I was boring Rich, but he was right there with me!
Eventually we made our way to the exit. I stepped outside to get some photos of the Hall. A few minutes later, Rich came out and pressed something into my hand. “I got you something,” he grinned. I looked down. It was bumper sticker that read, “I love Rugby.” Truer words were never spoken!