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Give blood: Play rugby

Femaelstrom
Alison Osius
Glenwood Springs, Colorado CO
Alison Osius
ALL |

Years ago, in mud and drizzle, a group of us guests alongside a playing field in Vermont peered at our friend Charlie, sprinting across the rugby field. What was that on his face?

Yes, Charlie was cut. It was his wedding day, and the scimitar-like slice across his cheekbone would adorn every photo.

I played rugby myself, senior year in college, when my roommate started a women’s rugby team. We had a lot of fun learning and playing, and I also broke my nose, and gave my thesis defense with a slight black eye.



My nephew Nick got stitches in his lip on prom day through rugby.

Then my son Teddy, a football player who’d practiced a little with a youth rugby program, was pulled in from the sidelines when they were short on players. He called from the ride home, and when I asked where to meet him, said sheepishly, “Umm, maybe a hospital or something. I might need one or two stitches.”



In fact, he had split his forehead open in the first two minutes, and needed a dozen stitches, right up the middle.

So I put my foot down. He already had football: an elbow surgery, a knee surgery. There was mountain-bike racing, and a broken collarbone. He should run track instead.

“Alison, I need to talk to you,” Teddy’s friend Felipe, another Carbondale high schooler, said seriously this spring. “Can Teddy please play rugby? We need him.”

“No helmets, no pads? No way. You saw what happened.”

Felipe expounded: Rugby uses a different style of tackling than football, and players throw the ball before being tackled rather than struggle along. He explained these reasons, velvety-eyed, every single time I saw him.

“I’m begging,” he said when I saw him in the grocery store. “On my knees!” he shouted as I fled.

This spring as a senior Teddy ran track again, until the day he came home armed with statistics averring that rugby is safer than football, and an earnest plea that he had tried track, given it his best, and just wanted to play rugby with his friends.

And so he joined the Grand Gents, comprised of seven schools, including Basalt and Glenwood, across the Western Slope.

But bear in mind that young men, or at least the ones I have observed, hate their rival high schools. “Why would you bother to hate, say, Basalt?” I’d reason. “They’re right down the road. They’re just people like us.”

“Oh, we hate Basalt,” he said. He wouldn’t ever wear purple, the Basalt color.

But the team practiced every day together, and shared meals hosted by each venue; and on the joyous evening after they won a berth to State Championships, Teddy texted, “Can I go hang out with some Basalt kids?”

Last week, we journeyed excitedly to States. Mike, our freshman son Roy, and I arrived in Denver to a dedicated rugby field in a stadium seating 4,000, with a JumboTron screen and announcer. The team’s beloved rugby coach Gary had canceled a business trip to attend. The football players’ beloved coach Tory, who’d started the rugby league, showed up to surprise them. Girlfriends appeared, and grandparents from out of state.

Our team gave their all, and put some points up, but succumbed. Opposition fans roared onto the field: the JumboTron recorded the fist-waving, jumping and kissing; panned briefly to our guys’ stricken and stony faces.

“Teddy’s going to be mad,” predicted Roy. “He’s gonna take it out on me.”

As I hugged Teddy afterward, myself only thankful no one had been hurt, he said calmly, “I sucked.” He threw his arm around his little brother’s shoulder and thanked him for coming.

The other team, Teddy told us in discouragement, came from just two schools, adjacent to each other. “The only time I ever even played with the Grand Junction kids,” he said, “was on game days.”

“It’s tough when you’re so dispersed,” Mike said. “It’s hard to be cohesive.”

As we turned to leave, a voice said, “Teddy!” It was Hayden, from Basalt, also scraped and drained-looking. They shook hands, sharing a look of perfect understanding.

– “Femaelstrom” appears on the third Friday of each month. Alison Osius lives in Carbondale, where she is a climber, skier and magazine editor. Contact her at aosius@hotmail.com.


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