Familiar face returns to scrum

Sheldon Warmington

Fifteen players per team, one oblong shaped ball playing on a 144 meters long by 70 meters wide pitch.

Does it sound familiar?

No pads, no forward passing, no blocking to assist the runner and something called a scrum. How about now?

Ok, well maybe I was purposely trying to throw you for a loop; a pitch is synonymous with what is more popularly known as a field and for those of you that were wondering, the word scrum does not refer to a “less ambitious male”; instead the word scrum (an abbreviation for the word scrimmage) is a means for restarting play after an accidental infringement.

If you haven’t already figured it out, the sport is rugby, a game which was invented in England in the 1820’s, and is probably best known for its impact on what is heralded in America as football.

Since 1968, Topeka has been involved in this mostly international phenomenon. The Topeka Wizards were founded by Washburn University law school students, and since then the team has become a consistent face among the teams in the Heart of America Rugby Football Union.

The HOARFU is one of 37 leagues in the Local Area Union within USA Rugby, and one of seven within the Territorial Union the Western Rugby Football union. The Topeka Rugby football club’s games are played predominantly in the Midwest region (specifically Kansas, Nebraska, and Arkansas) against a host of local teams, some of which are college based, such as Kansas State University’s team, and some being club or community based, like those found in Salina, Wichita and KC Northland.

Jared Rudy, a Washburn graduate who serves as the team’s president, continues his rally for more funding as the virtual obscurity of the sport limits its ability to compete with other big name sports like basketball and baseball.

“Things have been slowly looking up though,” said Tony Ahrens, a second year player for Topeka Rugby. “More people are being made aware of the sport through the global market and the work that the club has done in the community.”

Last season’s team had a less than stellar year, but with hard work and personnel changes in the off-season, the team has a promising outlook for 2008.

“I’m excited about this year,” Ahrens said. “Last year we were transitioning between coaches, which was distracting. With our new coach I have a really good feeling we’ll improve.”

The new coach Ahrens is referring to is Billy Pryor.

Pryor is no stranger to these parts, and boasts an impressive resume to boot. He started his rugby journey in 1976 while still in college, and was introduced to the sport as a player for Ft. Smith Rugby club in Arkansas.

He then moved to the University of Kansas, where he played from 1977 to 1981, leading the team to the Western Championship in 1980 and a near perfect season that included just one loss.

His KU career ended on a successful note as they won a Big 8 title as well as a Heartland of America championship.

In 1981, he moved to Topeka and joined the Topeka Rugby football club where he played for just one year before becoming a player/coach in 1982.

Pryor stayed with the team until 1990 when he moved to California and played for the Santa Monica Rugby Club from 1991-95. He stopped playing in 1997 but continued to show his support for the Santa Monica club as an Alumnus.

Finally, after a 12-year absence, Pryor has returned to Topeka.

Practices are held at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at McDonald Field, which is located in Shunga.

Games are held on Saturday afternoons, and the first home match is this week against Wichita. The team encourages anybody with an interest in rugby to watch a game or even try out with the men in practice.

A full schedule can be found on the team’s website www.topekarugby.com along with information on the players and directions to the games and team events.