By Jeremy Rick
As the end of January nears, rugby season is right around the corner. The members of the Chuckanut Bay Rugby Club will prepare for their 2014 spring season when practices begin Feb. 4 at 8:30 p.m. on Whatcom Community College’s Orca Field.
In the early 1970s a group of former Western Washington University rugby players sought to create a club that did not limit membership to Western students, according to Whatcom student and previous Chuckanut Bay player Erik Schacht, 23.
The founding members chose the name “Chuckanut Bay Geoducks” over “High Street Commandos,” and a new rugby club emerged within the Pacific Northwest, Schacht said.
The club has since expanded into multiple age and gender groups, and now includes four men’s teams and one women’s team as well as one co-ed team for grade-school children, Schacht said.
John Reid will begin his first season as head coach for Chuckanut Bay’s senior men’s team.
Reid said he came to America from Northern Ireland, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge accumulated through his extensive time with Ulster Rugby, a rugby club located in Reid’s hometown of Belfast.
Reid said that rugby is “like American football, but faster, more creative, more continuous, and we don’t need all the pads.”
Football is often used as a reference point for explaining rugby, but other sports have comparable characteristics as well, he said.
Micah Bartlett, 29, is a Whatcom student who has spent the last two years playing for the Chuckanut Bay senior men’s team.
“The best players are football players, soccer players, and wrestlers because rugby has similarities with all of those sports,” Bartlett said. Experience with these other sports may often correlate to success on the rugby pitch, but it is certainly not a prerequisite, he said.
Chuckanut Bay “welcomes new players, men and women, to try out” for a sport that is “not difficult to learn,” Reid said.
A game of rugby is played by two teams of 15 players in which an oval-shaped ball is passed laterally or backwards, and ran or kicked forward until a team scores. Scoring is achieved by touching the ball to the ground within the opposing team’s goal-area, or kicking the ball though the opposing team’s H-shaped goalposts. Points may accumulate throughout two 40-minute halves, and the team with the most points wins.
Although this description paints a simplified picture of the game, Reid said he is focused on developing complex skill-sets within the athletes under his command to propel the team’s success this season.
Rugby is “a sport with a lot of history,” Reid said, adding that developing the necessary skills for the sport takes time and can only be developed with experience.
Bartlett said that new members will have the opportunity to gain experience on the field
“There is plenty of playing time for each member because 15 players from each team are on the field at any given time,” Bartlett said, adding that the Chuckanut Bay senior men’s team had about 25 players last year. Furthermore, he said the teams will often play back-to-back games, rotating entire lineups between them, so having more players is beneficial.
“The men’s teams have had their ups and downs . . . depending on which players come back and which new ones join,” Bartlett said.
While the size of a team determines the amount of playing time and rest each player gets, Bartlett and Reid both said it is always better to have too many players rather than too few.
Chuckanut Bay’s senior men’s team will play eight games this season, four home games on the Bellingham Rugby and Polo fields and four away games, Reid said.
As a coach, Reid said his goal is to get his team “fitter, faster, and winning. I would like to see them defend the polo fields . . . not let visitors win there . . . and build a reputation.”
The women’s coaching staff was unavailable for comments, but their team will begin their season at the same time and place as the mens’.
A social night for the members of Chuckanut Bay Rugby will be held Jan. 31 at Bikram Yoga, with another gathering at Boundary Bay Brewery immediately afterwards.