POSTED ON MAY 11, 2011:
The Tulsa Rugby Football Club deserves our support
Fire Doug Wojcik! Just kidding Tulsa, settle down. Coach Wojcik is an asset to the city and one of the truly good guys in college sports. And to think this praise is coming from a media member not invited to his home for dinners. It was just an attention grab.
Now that your awareness is elevated, let's shift the focus to a lesser known T-Town commodity. The Tulsa Rugby Football Club travels the country dishing out bruises and beatings while branding our city in a positive light.
Back in 2007, the squad burst onto the national scene with an improbable run to the final four. A year later they fought their way back to the elite eight before having their season ended.
The 2009 regular season was perfect. "We went undefeated all season then lost our challenge match," said the team's Trevor Taber.
Their local union, the Heart of America, implemented the challenge match. The second place team challenged the top team in the region for the rights to go on to the Western Tournament. The St. Louis Bombers ended their quest prematurely.
In 2010 Tulsa RFC finished second and challenged the Omaha GOATS for the spot in the Western Tournament. They came up short once again.
"This year our union implemented a challenge tournament so the top four teams had a two-day tournament to see who advances to the Western," Taber said.
On a mid-April Saturday afternoon, they defeated the Omaha GOATS and on the following Sunday, you guessed it, they exacted revenge against the St. Louis Bombers. This launched them into the Western Tournament riding a wave of confidence.
It paid off as the team captured the Western by defeating Albuquerque and Ft. Worth on back-to-back days. It was not easy, but adversity does not affect this team.
"We had the lead and Albuquerque fought back with about five minutes to go," said Coach Steve Ingram. "You could see it on the Albuquerque side, 20-20 with five minutes to go, they were playing for overtime.
"You looked at the Tulsa team and they didn't think about overtime. They never hung their heads. They just came back and within a minute and a half they scored the points to go ahead," the coach said. "There is no doubt in their mind they can get it done. Teams hang their heads when times get tough, but not these guys. They just take it to another level."
Ingram coached the 2007 squad as well. He thinks the 2011 version of the Tulsa RFC is the best ever.
"They have the ability (to win it all)," he said. "If they believe in themselves, I honestly can't see who can beat them."
The next stop is Chula Vista, CA the weekend of May 21-22. It is the sixteen best teams from across the land.
Tulsa faces the San Diego Old Aztecs on May 21. When they beat the quasi-home team, they will play on Sunday for the right to return to the final four.
"We are playing at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA," said Luke Turner. "There really is no host team, San Diego just got lucky that USA Rugby chose to stage the event in their backyard. But as far as home field advantage, San Diego definitely has it.
"They'll be sleeping in their own beds every night only 10 minutes away from the field while we have to raise about $25,000 to fund our travel to the event."
Four years ago the trip to southern California cost about $13,000 for the team. Plane tickets ran about $205 per player and coach.
Fast forward to this year. The economy, depending on who you ask, is stabilizing but not close to the 2007 level. Meanwhile, the same flight to San Diego costs more than $500 per ticket.
McNellie's has been the backbone sponsor for years. The team would be struggling without their support. This year alone the Tulsa staple has purchased the team new jerseys, new shorts, new socks, the whole nine yards.
The squad is extremely thankful, but leery of returning to the well once too often. They did assist the McNellie's group during the NCAA Tournament bash downtown.
If someone poured you a beer in the big tent across from the BOK Center on Friday night or Sunday afternoon, it was likely a rugby player.
The team is scrambling for sponsors and donations. They are holding pool tournaments among other ideas. "May 14 is the Old Boys game," Taber said. "Some of the local high school and local college guys playing our Old Boys. People could just come down and watch the game."
They practice and play home games at 37th and Riverside. After the Old Boys game they will head over to McNellie's for a few cold ones and once again try to drum up support.
"We are taking money from anybody that will listen to us rant about what we have to do," said Ingram.
"Last night some people overheard us talking about (the money situation) and gave us some money," Taber said. "It was like 30 or 40 bucks but still."
This is the same group that stops practice to applaud donations. This is the same team representing Tulsa across the nation. This is the same organization that hosts teams from out of state and drives revenue to hotels, eateries and bars.
This is the same team stuck reading coverage of bowling and listening to radio host ramble on about NFL lawyers. Where is the rugby love?
Visit tulsarugbyclub.com for more information.
"Maybe Tulsans don't know us enough to think about us," said Ingram.
Now they do.
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