You are now entering the uncomfortable zone. Imagine sitting at your desk minding your business. You sift through typical work e-mails and paperwork. Suddenly, your boss approaches with a sly grin.
He advises you that your monitor, e-mail account and chair are being seized. You feel handicapped but must perform your job nonetheless. Now you know how I feel trying to do justice to the Tulsa Rugby Football Club.
If there ever were a team more deserving of a playing field to call their own, locker rooms, private transportation and all the things top flight, winning American sports franchises enjoy, it's these guys.
Somehow the team will find a way to get to San Diego as part of the nationwide tournament to crown the best. Tulsa RFC captured the Western Championship for the first time back in April.
"Tulsa's Rugby Club has been around since 1974. This is the first year we have ever won the regional," says Dax Junker. Junker is the eldest member of the team at the ripe young age of 33. He's built like a tank.
The team practices and plays home matches at 37th and Riverside just north of Riverside Parks. The pitch blends just behind the disc golfer's path.
After securing the Western Championship they made the trek to Columbia, SC. "We beat two tremendous teams from Boston and San Diego to make it to the final four," proudly boasted Junker.
The competition figures to ratchet up a notch in San Diego. They compete in the USA Rugby National Finals June 9-10.
"We win on Saturday and we play in the Championship on Sunday," says an extremely confident Trevor Taber. His twin brother, Trent, is also a member of the Tulsa RFC. Their burgeoning careers began at Jenks High School.
There was no hesitation in his voice when proclaiming victory on the horizon. It was not cheap psychology.
This squad truly believes in the collective sum being greater than the opposition's parts.
They are ready to scrumble against the nation's elite squads. Los Angeles Rugby Club, Raleigh Vipers and Red Mountain from Tucson, AZ stand between Tulsa RFC and history.
How did this team exceed expectations and get to this climatic position? Must be in the water. "Most everybody here is from Tulsa and the surrounding areas," says Junker.
The team credits the improved high school rugby system for the influx of young talent. "A lot of people don't even know we have a high school program here in Tulsa," he continued.
Of course he is true. Chances are you were not aware of its existence unless you are directly involved in the rugby scene. Tulsa currently has five teams at the high school level.
Bixby, Booker T. Washington, Broken Arrow, Jenks and Union round out the teams representing Tulsa. Bartlesville and Norman are home to the only other two high school rugby programs in the state.
The collegiate rugby scene is much larger. The sport is played at most colleges in Oklahoma according to Tom Rosser. His collegiate athletic resume at Northeastern State University includes a year of soccer before shifting his focus over to rugby, his true passion.
The closest sports comparisons are American football and hockey. The physicality is similar but different. "We don't wear pads so at times it can be more physical.
"At times you have to be smart about your body when you are making tackles and running into people," explains Junker. Unlike the 'look-at-me' football players of today, you cannot leave your feet for the super-flying, highlight-reel tackle.
Proper wrap-up form is required. It goes back to the old saying. "Football is a gentleman's game played by hooligans and rugby is a hooligan's game played by gentlemen".
The clock is continuous so no time to catch your breath. Similar to hockey in this aspect. Coach Steve Ingram sees this as a distinct advantage for his rag-tag group of overachievers.
"I can run them out here until they're damn near pukin' and they won't quit on me. That's the difference right there. When you're playing in big games, it's the team that quits first that loses," says the native of New Zealand.
Ingram played for years north of the border in Vancouver. The main difference between Tulsa style rugby and rugby abroad is the distance between clubs.
"There's eight different clubs in Vancouver. We could travel 15 minutes for a game whereas here our minimum drive is two hours to get a game," he says in his thick Kiwi accent. Rugby is the national sport of New Zealand so competition was always a stone's throw away.
This is Ingram's second year as head coach. He realized earlier in the season just how special this team would be. A loss to Springfield jeopardized their chances to qualify for the national tournament.
The team came back needing to win by 13 points against the same Springfield team. A convincing 46-28 victory two weeks later laid the foundation for which this championship run was built.
Rugby takes something special to reach this level. Commitment to the team and tons of heart. Other teams run two or three superstars on the pitch each match. Tulsa fields an unyielding, never-say-die team.
"Size and speed help but I've played this game for 30 years and I'm not exactly big. It comes back to your heart as far as I'm concerned. You've got to want to do it," says the coach with a fire in his eyes as he stares intently at his team running drills.
"There's positions for big boys and smaller guys. We've got a guy out here named Zack (Bible). I bet you he doesn't weight a buck fifty-five. We call him 240 because he tackles like he is 240," says Ingram like a proud father.
One drawback is the monetary situation. The team relies on sponsorship. "We have one really strong sponsor in McNellie's," says the appreciative Junker.
The James E. McNellie's Public House is located downtown at 409 East 1st Street. These guys foot their own bill when times dictate as much.
The team is always looking for additional support either monetarily or with new players and fans. I can attest to their sincerity.
While attending a practice, the father of one of the team member's handed over a check to which practice was stopped and everyone clapped in unison to show their gratitude.
Interested in learning more about Tulsa rugby? Visit tulsarugbyclub.com.
Now go win a championship and make Tulsa proud!
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