Topeka Rugby Club hopes to attain new heights, opens with Thursday scrimmage against Kansas

Sitting on the job Marc Limon, a Washburn alumnus, catches the ball while cushioning himself on a teammate during a practice at McDonald Park.

When David Beckham came to the United States from England, people (especially teenage girls) went crazy for his arrival. Rugby’s introduction to the States was less of a spectacle, and the sport still receives little attention from fans or the media.

The Topeka Rugby Club is determined to change that.

In places like England and Australia, people watch rugby with a passion similar to the way Americans watch football or baseball games. The club hopes to create that level of excitement in Topeka by spreading the word of a sport that is wildly popular overseas.

Until recently there were only a handful of people who even knew rugby was played in Topeka. Now, after a steady increase in publicity and fan support, the local team will begin one of its most anticipated seasons ever at 6 p.m. Aug. 23 in a scrimmage against Kansas at McDonald Park.

Although the club has been around since the late ’70s, the team’s popularity has never been higher.

“There has been a recent growth in popularity. We are in the process of building a rugby complex and possibly bringing a national tournament to Topeka,” said Jared Rudy, a Washburn graduate who has played for the last eight years and is the team’s president.

The completion of a new rugby complex, which will be near the Sunflower Soccer pitches, is a major step for the continued growth of the sport in Topeka. However, finishing the complex is a challenge that shows just how difficult it is to transform Topeka Rugby from an unknown group of players into a strongly supported team.

“We don’t have a lot of money,” said Rudy. “Mostly, we take the money left over at the end of every season. The guys go out there and mow and try to get it prepared. We’ve got a goal of getting it done so we can bring some rugby tournaments to Topeka.”

The team plays at McDonald Park, which is near Shunga Drive and about a mile away from Washburn’s campus. Although the location is convenient for the many Washburn students who play on the team, the club would like to have a field of its own to practice on and attract future competition.

As fan support increases, so will the money the team has to work with. Both the players and team president agree that once fans watch the game firsthand, they will keep coming back to see more.

“It’s the best sport in the world,” said Matthew Crawford, a Washburn student who plays for the club. “When I went over to Australia, rugby was on 24/7. It’s too bad more people don’t follow it here.”

The team is not only looking for fans, but also any players who are interested in joining. As Topeka Rugby’s popularity rises, the team’s members encourage everyone to do what all their bumper stickers demand: PLAY RUGBY.

“It’s a very fast paced, fun game when you learn it,” said Rudy. “There’s a position for everybody. People sometimes think you have to be a big, strong guy to play, but anybody can play no matter what age or size they are.”