Vol. CLIII, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Reapers represent rugby at Whitman

Whitman College plays Willamette in the first Whitman club match of the season. After losing 69-7 last spring, Whitman tied the larger Willamette team 17-17 at home with many chances to win. The game was on Ankeny field, 9/18/10, Saturday. Left: Sugarsuren 'Sugar' Byambasuren, 2014. Center: Jeremy Howell, 2013. Right: Dylan Shenefield, Walla Walla community member.

The Whitman College rugby program draws athletes from all backgrounds to the practice pitch with the singular goal of playing a much loved, but under-appreciated sport.

“There’s no particular fame or glory in playing rugby [in the United States],” said Eric McAlvey, head coach of the Whitman Reapers. “Just the love of the game.”

Whitman rugby players, or “ruggers”, not only include Whitman students, but also willing Walla Walla residents and high school students. McAlvey used to be one such local player; he returned ten years ago to coach the team after a career-ending leg injury.

While an integral part of sport culture in many parts of the international community, rugby remains a sport that still mystifies many in the States.

“Most people who come out [for the team] have never played it,” said senior captain Cameron Callaghan, who contends that many spectators and fans at Whitman rugby games are also unfamiliar with the game. “[People] just come out to observe this strange sport that they don’t understand,” he added.

The Reapers use this curiosity to their advantage, encouraging anyone interested to learn more about their sport.

“Just come out and play!” encouraged a smiling Callaghan.

The team spends the first few weeks of the season each year working on ground rules and technique, in part to help integrate the new players.

“We welcome anyone to come out and give it a shot,” said McAlvey.

While rugby’s violent reputation may be well-earned–“It’s the most violent sport I’ve ever played,” affirmed senior rugger and lacrosse player Ryon Campbell–it is safer than it may seem.

Background: Will Cooper '12 and Ben Skotheim '13. Lifting Players: Sugarsuren 'Sugar' Byambasuren, 2014, Dylan Shenefield, Walla Walla community member. On Top: Matt Booth '14. Photo Credit: Ethan Parrish

“When it’s played right, rugby is actually safer than football,” said Campbell. McAlvey also explained that because of the limited protective padding in rugby, players are forced to have proper tackling technique; consequently, safety is very much emphasized on the team.

In a game where play is only stopped in the event of a foul, a score or an out-of-bounds ball, purposeful play is essential.

“Every position has its role,” said sophomore starter Allan Okello, after struggling to identify one position as the most important. “Rugby’s definitely a whole team sport.”

“It’s the ultimate team game. Everyone can run, tackle and kick,” said McAlvey.

How each player assumes multiple roles ultimately creates a dynamic, high-intensity game for spectators and players alike. A particular bow-tied spectator can sometimes be found in the crowd, too.

“We feel really supported by [George Bridges],” said Callaghan of the former rugger and current president of Whitman College. McAlvey also emphasized his enthusiasm at having an administration which he believes appreciates the importance of athletics.

With McAlvey’s expertise and the players’ commitment to improvement, the Reapers program has been growing in both numbers and strength.

“I think every single game we have coming up is winnable,” said McAlvy.

The men encourage all those interested to come watch the Reapers play North Idaho UFC next Saturday, Oct. 23 during Parent’s Weekend.

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    Nic PrinceAug 15, 2022 at 5:56 am

    Hi, Can anyone tell me if there is any rugby in the area and when the season starts. I’m from South Africa and have family in Walla Walla and wanted to experience rugby in the area but when I visited relatives I couldn’t get any information. So I would like to check it out if I’m visiting again. You can send me an email with any information about when the season is on so that I can make arrangements to travel when there is rugby on. Thanks, Nic