April 1, 2012 in City

Rugby fans hold 21st annual festival in Airway Heights

By The Spokesman-Review

In a scrum, members of the rugby team Butte Crabs of Montana, left, and the Spokane Razorbacks fight for possession of the ball during their Fools Fest rugby tournament game Saturday at the Spokane Polo Club.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

All in the soccer family

Soccer led to the creation of rugby, which was in turn a forerunner to football. But don’t get them confused; there are big differences.

Those overseeing the games are called sirs – “It’s a show of respect” – not referees, Nay said. Cleats are boots. And they aren’t touchdowns, they’re tries.

Passing can only be lateral, though players can kick the ball, which is fatter and more rounded than a football, forward. When a player makes it to the try zone, he or she must touch the ball to the ground to earn points. Violating the laws can land a player in the penalty box, or the “sin bin.”

The game is fast-paced, and play only stops if the ball goes out of bounds, in a scoring situation, or if a violation occurs. There are no helmets, no pads – just shorts, shirts, boots and some serious backbone.

Tackling is different from football, too. Players wrap their arms around the lower legs to take their opponent down, reducing the chance of injury.

Saturday’s a rugby day.

The phrase comes from a song sung by ruggers either before a match or afterward over a few pints – a song that celebrates rugby and the escape from the day-to-day that the sport delivers.

This particular Saturday was the 21st annual Fools Fest, held at the polo fields in Airway Heights and hosted by the Spokane Razorbacks. The nature of the sport is competitive, but the festival is more about camaraderie and the unmitigated love of rugby shared among ruggers.

“It’s more of a social event,” said festival organizer Rich Nay. “It’s a competition, but a large part of it is social.”

Fourteen teams – seven men’s and seven women’s – participated in the festival. The ruggers came from around the Northwest, and one pair even drove 10 hours from Red Deer, Alberta, to get in on some games. Many gathered in the beer garden when they didn’t have a game going on.

“It’s a fun group of people,” said Lance Berube, who plays for the Razorbacks.

“Unfortunately, we usually have rain on our tournament,” he said. “But it doesn’t stop people from showing up, which shows the commitment to the sport.”

Each team played three games that consisted of 25-minute halves instead of the usual 40-minute halves. “

The award goes to the team that displays the spirit of rugby the best,” Nay said. “Sportsmanship. Competition. Clean, fair and hard play.”

Despite its growing popularity in the U.S., misconceptions about rugby and rugby players persist. The players come from all walks and represent a wide range of ages and abilities.

“A lot of people think it’s just a bunch of guys rolling around in the grass and drinking beer after,” joked Craig “Wag” Parish. “That’s just the hook.”

In all seriousness, though, “the misconceptions, I guess, would be that it’s a violent sport or that you have to be big,” organizer Nay said.

“Rugby is a sport where there’s a spot for every size and athletic ability,” he said. “The biggest thing is teamwork.”

After Saturday’s festival, many players gathered at a downtown Spokane bar to “rehydrate,” recap the day and enjoy one another’s company.

Because, as the song goes, Sunday’s the Lord’s day and Monday, well, Monday is a working day.

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