The members of the Hill Country Blues began to arrive at Louise Hays Park around 6 p.m. on Thursday, slowly congregating at the open field near the park’s bandstand.
Once there, they started playing the fastest growing sport in America. Some club members have been playing rugby for almost 30 years; others have only recently begun playing the sport. Some joined Hill Country Blues because they’ve been passionate about rugby since their college days; others were initially interested because they were seeking a good way to remain active. The oldest member is almost 50 years old; and the youngest just celebrated his 20th birthday.
But on Thursday evening, they all trotted toward the open field with the same purpose — to continue their mission to build an elite rugby club in Kerrville that competes in tournaments throughout Texas.
So far, they are off to a good start, considering that they will participate in their first tournament, the Bloodfest 7s, today at the Round Rock Multipurpose Complex.
When the 7-on-7 tournament concludes, the Hill Country Blues will resume its goal of promoting rugby in the Kerrville community. The club even has a youth squad, which has recently received approval from the City to host a regional tournament later this season at the Sports Complex.
“It’s the fastest growing sport in the state,” said Chedzoy, one of the club’s three founding members. “There is no reason, especially with Kerrville’s love for football, that people shouldn’t just jump right on. … We are the Hill Country Blues so we will take anyone who is not in the metros and add them on to our team.”
The HIll Country Blues’ inception began two years ago, when Chedzoy, Jonathan Barnes and Will Fahey took it upon themselves to organize Kerrville’s first rugby club (The three stripes on the sleeve of the Hill Country Blues’ new jerseys are a nod to the club’s founders). Kerr Country YMCA director Greg Peschel supported their endeavor, formally introducing the club at 2017 YMCA basketball awards ceremony. The club held its first practice on Feb. 1, 2017. Only two people attended.
“It’s grown from there,” Chedzoy said.
Indeed. Now, around 10 to 20 people attend the club’s practices. Expanding the club required a team effort. They distributed fliers, sent texts to their friends, and talked about their new club in public whenever given the opportunity. Barnes oversees the social media efforts, using their public Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/HCRCBLues/) to inform Kerrville residents about the Hill Country Blues’ upcoming events. Chedzoy organizes team events and Fahey brings a wealth of experience to the club. Not only has he played collegiately at Arkansas, but he also once trained with the national rugby team, the USA Eagles.
And they all serve as ambassadors for the sport, readily extolling Rugby’s virtues. For starters, Chedzoy notes that the sport’s unwritten rules encourage impeccable sportsmanship. Rugby’s culture, for instance, refuses to tolerate any disrespect toward referees, and while also it also promotes a deep respect toward the opposing squad. According to Chedzoy, players from the two opposing teams will often gather for a social after matches, where they will eat dinner together; belt out bawdy tunes; and rehydrate (with beer often being the beverage of choice).
But there are other benefits to rugby besides cultivating a strong sense of camaraderie. It’s a great source of cardio, with players sprinting up and down the pitch for the duration of the match. And it’s an easily accessible sport for all ages, containing rules that are relatively easy to understand. And it can be an extremely physical sport, or one that doesn’t involve any contact at all.
“It’s a men’s sport, it’s a women’s sport,” Barnes said. “There are very few limitations — all you need is a ball and a field.”
And a nearby place to drink beer afterwards. After Thursday’s practice, the Hill Country Blues’ members continued a long-standing Rugby tradition, enjoying a social together at Basement Brewers of Texas.
Today, they will brave 100-degree temperatures to compete in their first tournament, determined to continue Rugby’s forward momentum in Kerrville.
“Once people get out here, they just fall in love with it and can’t get enough of it,” Chedzoy said. “It’s just getting people to have that mind set of giving it a try.”