Oshkosh Rugby Club wants you

Photo creds: Bill Blake / Oshkosh Rugby Club-- Brad Gorzek dives in order to advance past the tackling opposition. In Rugby, anyone can run the ball, allowing for greater diversity of strengths.

Photo creds: Bill Blake / Oshkosh Rugby Club– Brad Gorzek dives in order to advance past the tackling opposition. In Rugby, anyone can run the ball, allowing for greater diversity of strengths.

Nolan Swenson, Co-Sports Editor

The Oshkosh Rugby Club, also known as the Mighty Pigs, has operated out of Oshkosh since 1978 and played at the Division III level against other Wisconsin rugby clubs. The team comprises of men ranging in age from 18 through their early 40s at all levels of physicality and experience.

Club President Bill Blake believes that rugby has had a recent revival, but said it is still misunderstood as football with a constantly running match. He said he knows that it goes deeper than that.

“To summate, in rugby, players are split into forwards and backs. The forwards are the ‘Bigger Boys’, and their goal is to do the heavy lifting through scrums and lineouts,” Blake said. “The backs are more skilled players, smaller and more agile types. They do more plays with each other and coordinate moving of the ball.”

Blake said that rugby is safer than football due to its many rules and regulations around contact. 

“Basically … everyone is treated like the quarterback,” he said before adding that games are traditionally played with 15 players, or 10 during Pigfest and seven during the summer season.

The Oshkosh Rugby Club is more than just rugby; it’s also about the culture it facilitates.

The team has been around for 44 years and has been doing more work to better integrate itself into the community in order to break negative stereotypes about the sport. Some of the work that Blake discussed was charitable efforts being required as part of membership dues, as well as working events.

“Some of these [events] include ringing bells, working water stations and doing work for Habitat for Humanity,” he said.

In addition, the club holds an annual golf outing and donates its proceeds to a different nonprofit organization.

According to Blake, everyone who is involved with the youth rugby organizations is a former or current player from the Pigs, which shows the extent that the program is going to try to create and improve rugby culture. The newest expansion is the flag program, where they partnered with the Oshkosh Parks and Recreation Department, and had about 35 kids participate. However, in the coming years, Blake said they hope to reach triple digit attendance.

One of the biggest events in their season is Pigfest. Pigfest is a tournament that’s been hosted since the club’s beginning.

Blake said: “According to the older guys, it started as an excuse to get together, eat pig and play rugby.”

But they’ve cultivated it into something bigger now. 

“We’ve developed it into the largest 10s tournament in the Midwest,” Blake said. “When I first got involved in leadership on the team, we only had two fields, but the county made a third, so we’ll only be expanding and expanding this event.”

Photo creds: Bill Blake / Oshkosh Rugby Club– Josh Nowicki is heaved up by other forwards.

The team fluctuates between 25 to 40 active players, and this year, seven members from the UW Oshkosh campus are on the team. Blake said he believes the reason for such low campus attendance is the distance between the field and school.

“A big reason we don’t have players from campus is that it’s all the way at the Winnebago County Park,” he said. “It’s hard for some people to get there if they don’t have transportation.”

Blake said due to the difficulty of getting players to the practice field, it would be easier for on-campus players without vehicles if there was a men’s club established on campus, as there is already a women’s club.

However, if that happens, that means that the Oshkosh Rugby Club will not have access to any college students who are interested in the club, as it will be far easier to attend the on-campus team practices and games.

Having two clubs could be problematic, by doing so you divide the team and potentially weaken both, he said. Another problem would be the creation of the program, as the Pigs will not be able to manage it the same way and will require the campus to take over something they are potentially unable to handle. All of this contributes to what Blake calls, “a weird in between.”

The difficulty of the situation is not opposition to the mindset, as Blake still wants a men’s club available to on campus men the same way it is to women.

 “More rugby is better for everyone, so there’s no real reason there shouldn’t be a men’s club on campus,” he said.

For the time being, practices and games are held on their pitch at Winnebago County Park on Tuesdays and Thursdays, going from 5:30 p.m. until dark. “However, as it begins to get darker earlier, a transition will be made toward the county park’s softball diamond. The team will use the diamond’s lighting in order to get more work done,” Blake said.