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Meet Me at the Pitch

Meet Me at the Pitch

by Katy Steinmetz, Springfield Business Journal 6/22/2009

"There's no time to stop watching."

That's how Mark Nelson, a Marshfield High School biology teacher, describes rugby sevens, an action-packed game that is played in just 14 minutes.

He knows what it's like because outside of the classroom, he gets his kicks on the "pitch" - that's rugby-speak for field - as a member of the Springfield Rugby Football Club. The public will soon have a chance to see the sport for themselves.

On June 27, the Springfield club will host its first "sevens" tournament, dubbed the Mudpuppy 7's International, where 12 teams will vie for the local rugby crown. Club President David Thornton hopes to see 500 people at the event, where 18 matches will be played in about eight hours.

Such a draw would contrast with the club's humble origins. Thornton helped found the team in 1983 at a meeting attended by only 10 people. The club now has upward of 60 members.

"The club has lots of diversity in what people do, and we complement each other," says Thornton, a freelance paralegal and substitute teacher. "Somebody has expertise in pretty much every area."

The team has laid claim to doctors and lawyers, to students and construction workers; there's even an aspiring rapper on the squad. And their ages are equally varied. Of the roughly 25 club members who are still active players, the ages range from 18 to 60.

Cam Collins, a mechanical engineer at Malone Finkle Eckhardt & Collins Inc., has been part of the club for more than 20 years. Though now retired from game play, he remains an avid supporter and is acting as director for the upcoming tournament.

"It's a sport you can be a part of for the rest of your life," says Collins, who began playing as a Kansas State University student. "They call it a hooligan's game played by gentlemen."

One of Collins' duties as director is taking care of a Welsh team, the Pill Harriers, whose participation gave the club a reason to put "international" in the tournament's title. The Pill Harriers have been the Springfield club's sister team since a past generation of players, including Thornton, met them on an international tour in 1985.

The Welsh visitors are part of the impetus for creating the event. Thornton says when they expressed a desire to visit Springfield this year and play sevens, a version of rugby reserved for the summer, club administrators saw an opportunity for fundraising and exposure.

In sevens, there are only seven players on each team and only seven minutes in each half, which Collins says can make for a more harried and exciting game. Normal rugby matches pit 15-member teams against each other for 40-minute halves; the Springfield club plays 20 to 25 matches during the regular fall and spring seasons. And Thornton says the team is always looking for new recruits.

"I've never experienced anything like it in my life," Nelson says of being on the team. "After these guys beat each other up all day, they go drink beers together and are best friends ... . It's strange, but it's awesome."


The Mudpuppy 7’s International

The Springfield Rugby Football Club is holding a one-day tournament called the Mudpuppy 7's International because it pits teams of seven players - half of the standard number - from Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Wales, United Kingdom.

When: 10 a.m.-7 p.m. June 27; the championship match should start at 6 p.m.

Where: The pitch, or field, is at Highway MM and Farm Road 144. (Take James River Freeway west to Highway MM and then north to Farm Road 144.)

Cost: Free

Amenities: A beer garden, and other drinks and food for sale; there are no bleachers, so blankets or lawn chairs are recommended.

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