COVID-19 Forces UTC Rugby To Seek Help From Local Team

Photo by Stephanie Swart

By Parris Clarke, Assistant Sports Editor-

The world of athletics has been turned upside down during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not one league or sport, collegiate or professional, has been spared from game postponements or season cancellations. 

Luckily for the collegiate and professional ranks, they’ve found a groove and way to navigate their sports on an operational level. One year into the pandemic, it’s the university’s club sports that are still left reeling in its wake. 

Major university sports have a demand. They generate revenue. So they’re the ones that receive the funding for the COVID protocols required to continue playing. This prioritization is understandable. In the midst of a pandemic, sacrifices must be made. But the costs of these sacrifices fall solely on normal students. 

The UTC club rugby team is one of the groups that have seen the most disruption.

UTC Rugby hasn’t played in over a year — leaving players largely displaced, without the opportunity to engage in one of their favorite hobbies. The players have had to search for ways to fill their rugby-sized void.

Eli Asher is one of UTC’s rugby players who has joined the local team, ‘Nooga Rugby, in order to get his rugby fix. 

“I got started with ‘Nooga because in the spring we play ‘sevens’ rugby with UTC,” Asher said. “It was something to fill my time. I was able to play, practice because their schedule is fall and spring, not just fall.”

It’s a fine replacement, but for a college student, playing on a team filled with grown men isn’t the same as suiting up with your peers and fostering relationships that can extend way beyond the rugby field. For Asher, the type of camaraderie that rugby offers served as a networking mechanism.

“When I transferred to UTC I started playing rugby and that’s how I met most of my friends on campus,” Asher said. “I was working overseas one summer and I found a local rugby team to practice with, so you can go anywhere, find a rugby team, and immediately have friends.”

The communal aspect is perhaps the most devastating loss for UTC Rugby over the last 12 months. The function of club sports, like rugby, goes well beyond wins and losses. It’s an opportunity for like-minded people to come together and establish and grow a community over a shared interest.

Rugby is more than just a group of buddies getting together to lateral a ball backward in an attempt to score. It’s a method of exercise for its players and the health benefits cannot be underestimated.

Rugby is played in three different styles. Each team has either seven, 10, or 15 players to a side, with 15 being the most traditional formation. However, Asher explains how playing “sevens rugby” really helped him to get in shape. With fewer players on the field, the more responsibility the players that are on the field have, and more ground they have to cover. The increased running caused Asher to drop weight, making him more agile, leading to a possible change of position once play returns. These are the kinds of health advantages UTC Rugby players have had to go without. 

One of the biggest off-the-field obstacles UTC Rugby has faced is recruiting new players.

As previously mentioned, the traditional rugby game is played with 15 players on each team. There’s a risk that right now that UTC Rugby will not have enough players to meet the 15-person threshold. 

In times of normalcy, the rugby team would rely on face-to-face recruiting during orientation and other special events. Now, they have had to resort to sending feelers through the scrappy newsletter, which has mounted minimal results.

Even with the low numbers in terms of personnel, ‘Nooga Rugby gives UTC the chance to practice with their team. But online learning has made it difficult for the remaining players that are on the roster to take advantage of the opportunity. 

“We can practice and play with ‘Nooga but a lot of our teammates also aren’t living in Chattanooga right now because everything is online,” Asher said.

The team is looking forward to breaking its year-long hiatus this weekend with a scheduled game against ‘Nooga Rugby. For the players, it’s not necessarily about wins or loses, it’s returning to a sense of normalcy and taking advantage of the opportunities that the game they love provides.

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