Varsity football stadiums are packed to the brim with chanting fans, the gym is full of kids yelling the school anthem at basketball games and folding chairs and blankets cover the grassy hill at baseball games. Meanwhile, 16 miles away at the St. James Academy football field, maybe two or three students are there cheering on the rugby team – if they’re lucky.
The rugby team of 40 consists players from St. James and East who play every Saturday and Sunday throughout the winter and spring. The team has set goals of traveling more and promoting themselves this season to try and gain more attendance, but still an average of only 20 parents sit in the stands, and the student section remains non-existent.
The St. Lancers Rugby Team, much like the East lacrosse team, is a club sport that does not receive any funding from the school due to the lack of East players. However, one major difference is that many people attend and know about lacrosse games.
Junior rugby player Drew Dedecker believes that their team is unknown among the East community. Their season began on Dec. 12, and while they continue to fundraise and promote themselves, nothing seems to work.
“Our name is the St. Lancers Rugby Team and it’s just sad because there’s a team that does some cool things and promotes our school, but nobody from our school promotes us,” DeDecker said. “They don’t even know about us.”
Despite the school’s lack of knowledge for their sport, rugby has been fundraising for new and different things this season to become recognized among the student body. They come together for team dinners of lasagna and spaghetti every Tuesday after practice, travel to compete in tournaments and continue to embrace their unique sport.
Although they don’t get funding from the school or support from fans, the team has been using the website “Snap! Raise,” a donation program, to fundraise $2,500 for their spring tournament in Tulsa on March 25. As they are raising the money for the upcoming tournament, they are also trying to raise an additional $10,000, almost four times their usual amount, plus $1,000 per player for a chance to play internationally in Ireland over the summer.
Ireland is one of the world’s oldest rugby nations and it’s been their dream to play there for almost four years, senior rugby player Teddy Lovelace said. If they are able to raise enough money for the trip, they would have the opportunity to play international teams.
The boys have about three more months of sending out chain emails and requesting pledges from family and friends so they can raise enough money in order to meet their deadline in mid-May. However, making this happen could be a stretch for the boys since not enough people know and donate to the club.
“We send out emails to a chain of people but mostly just friends and family donate,” Lovelace said. “Since a lot of people don’t know we have a team, people don’t donate because they don’t really care or know about our sport.”
Though the sport lacks popularity among East students, they have increased their popularity among other teams in the league. While other teams go their separate ways after shaking hands, the rugby team hosts their opponents with food and music after a match. Win or lose.
“I think the social aspect of our sport is what’s different, we usually host teams after matches, Which is usually some sort of food and get together post match,” head coach Rob Loney said. “We’ve also been known to sing a few songs as a team when we go on road trips for out of town tournaments. This builds camaraderie.”
To establish a stronger presence in the stands, the team is currently trying to recruit new players and spread the name for a potential student section this season.
“We look for the rowdy group of people who are loud, passionate and fun,” DeDecker said. “So to the people who enjoy coming outside and playing or watching a contact sport, I would say rugby is the sport for you, and if you don’t have anything to do on your Saturday or Sunday afternoons, come out and support us. We could really use it.”