Bring us your tired, huddled rugby masses and we’ll find a spot for you in a rough and rowdy scrum.”
It could be the motto of the Chicago Westside Condors Rugby Club, an organization founded in 1979 by students at Loyola University Medical School that has developed into a proud local tradition.
The club has grown exponentially from its humble beginnings and now features a rugby team for every type of competitor. The top Condor side currently competes in the Division I League, one step below the professional Super League. The Condors have steadily improved since their inception, appearing twice in the National Final Four in Division II. Because of such success the Condors were promoted to Division I in ’03. They wasted no time adapting to Division I style of play, reaching the Midwest Finals in ’05.
Still, while the Condor’s are one of the premier rugby clubs in the United States, Condor Club Director Adrian Gannon does not want the club to be painted with only that brush. Rather, Gannon stresses that the club also offers a social rugby side as well, called the Frogs, plus a side consisting of older rugby enthusiasts. He is also working on creating a permanent women’s side as well. Basically, experience levels range from newcomers to national and international players that compete on the Division I side. In addition to their proud reputation on the pitches of the Chicago area, the Condors have an exceptionally strong tradition of competing internationally and have traveled to Ireland, Kenya, Thailand and Fiji, to name just a few.
“We are one of the top rugby clubs in the nation and in the world, and while we are very proud of our achievements, we really want the club to become a big part of the community as well,” he said. “That is why we want to stress that anyone that wants to try rugby is more than welcome to come out and give it a try-the club is open to anybody.”
Sport draws the locals
The Condors compete at Thatcher Woods and practice at Columbus Park, so their bond with the surrounding West side communities is strong. Consequently, there are a few West Siders that compete, including Brian Backus from Riverside and Jeff Buscemi from Brookfield. Buscemi is new to the club and while he has a wrestling and football background, he says he immediately loved rugby.
“I got involved last season, because Eric Guzman told me to come out and give it a try,” he says. “Eric and I played football at Morton West and he told me to give rugby a try,” Buscemi said. “I went out and I liked it immediately. It reminded me of the great team aspects of football and wrestling. Also, the guys at the club welcomed me with open arms. I would encourage anyone that is interested to come out.”
Gannon realizes that rugby may seem hard to follow for Americans, but after a few quick tips, it is easy to understand. The leagues begin with the professional Super League, which consists of 12 clubs based all over the country. Below that are essentially the minor leagues, which are split into Division I, II, and III. Roughly 200 clubs compete in Division I in the United States and with over 30 rugby clubs in the Chicago area, it is tough to find top-notch players, according to Gannon.
The game itself
Rugby consists of 15 players on each team and 40-minute halves with no time outs. The game differs from American football because there is no blocking off the ball, but rugby does have many similarities to its American cousin.
The lateral is used throughout the field, enabling any player to be the quarterback or the running back at any point during the game. Regarding positions, there are eight forwards and seven backs also referred to as the front and back rows. There is some semblance of positions, though these positions are fluid. The front row players are normally the bigger players on the field, while the running backs are typically fast and agile. There is also a position called the fly half that functions as the main quarterback or point man on a side. When there is a scrum (the large pile of players pushing against each other), the backs line up behind while the front row players try to get the ball out and pass it to them, but at any point the ball can go to anyone.
In order to score, a team must have a player touch the ball down in the try zone, which equals five points. A conversion kick is also tried after touching the ball down. A player must step back 14 yards and if they kick the ball through the uprights it is worth two points. Even though Rugby looks quite violent, there are rules in place to protect the players. A player cannot spear another player and players must release the ball when they are tackled and the tackler must release the player immediately. If an infraction takes place, the team is awarded a penalty kick.
Getting the word out
As for the Condors chances this year, Gannon is quietly optimistic. Still, while the Condors success is important to Gannon, he lists building the club and spreading the sport of rugby as his most important task.
“I think we have the chance this season to surprise some people,” he says. “The guys are really committed and I think we will do well. As for the rest of the club, we just want to continue to get that word out and we hope that people we come out and give rugby a try. Rugby is the type of sport that once you get involved, you want to stay involved the rest of your life.”
The Condors first home game is Sept. 16th at Thatcher Woods.
For more information, go to condorsrugby.com