Traditionally a sport of Australian and European descent, rugby is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.
Even in the far reaches of western Kentucky, the Murray State Rugby Club is spreading interest and growing in numbers.
Rugby has been a part of Murray State since the 1960s. Originally started by a group of former football players looking for a way to continue playing contact sports, the club team has experienced rapid growth over the last few years and is now one of the biggest club sports on campus.
The club began gaining popularity soon after its inception and gradually grew through the 1970s. Interest eventually dropped off, however, and the club disappeared for more than a decade.
A group of students restored the team in the mid-1990s, but it again disappeared due to discipline issues with the University.
The club reappeared for the third time in 2009 as a new charter was signed with the University, making rugby an official Murray State club sport.
From that point on, the rugby team has expanded and now boasts more than 40 members and recently purchased a “rugby house” where several of the team members live together.
“We’re just up there throughout the week hanging out and living together,” said junior Matthew Hardison from Louisville, Ky. “We were all living in the dorms and it was hard getting teams together so it’s better for the team to have a place to meet up and just hang out.”
The team hosts weekly practices Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6-9 p.m., and also organizes team workouts each week.
In addition to practicing and playing for fun, the team also plays matches organized by the National Small College Rugby Organization, which schedules collegiate club matches across the country.
The team has three matches scheduled this semester, including home matches Oct. 5 against Freed Hardeman and Oct. 12 against Western Kentucky.
The Oct. 12 match has a unique twist, as both teams will be wearing dresses throughout the match in an effort to attract spectators and promote the two club teams.
While most of the members of the team have little to no experience playing rugby prior to coming to Murray State, the team continues to teach the game to new players and attract new fans.
“The beauty of the game of rugby is that anyone can play,” said team member Andy Biggs. “We play teams from all sorts of smaller schools around this area, and it’s always a really good time. Rugby is so different from any other sport because after a game both teams get together and socialize. It’s really a cool experience playing with other schools.”
While club rugby may be a long-standing tradition at Murray State, the current group has grown to unprecedented heights.
With so many new members, the club encourages anyone who might be interested to give it a shot.
“We have brand new members all the time,” Hardison said. “We just want people to come out to practice and give it a try. People tend to like it a lot when they just try it.”
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff Writer