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Crusaders rugby club gear up for new season



After every rugby match, tradition calls for the home club to host a social event in honor of the visiting club. Nothing black tie or even semiformal " more like opposing warriors getting together over food and drinks to recite the highlights of their most recent conflict.


It basically falls under the sport's historic description: a game for ruffians played by gentlemen.

"It's a show of sportsmanship and respect, which are such important parts of our sport," said Marcus Burgher, Edmond resident and veteran rugby player.

At 53, Burgher has participated in his share of bludgeoning matches over the years, where the two sides bang heads and quite literally trade blood, sweat and bruises within the scrums and rucks that demand physical toughness and mental resilience.

These days, he is the mouthpiece for the Crusaders, a local rugby club that is one of two state-based teams playing in the Texas Rugby Union. He still competes for the Crusaders in social matches, but has retired from the more demanding cup competition and spends much of his extra time promoting the sport he loves.

While many players on the club's current roster have played together for a number of years on various teams, the Crusaders have only been together officially since 2007, when they put together a charter and applied to the Texas Rugby Union and eventually registered as a Division III team with USA Rugby.

It is a physically demanding sport open to players 18 and older, and as the club's Web site at states, "We have a diverse group of firefighters, engineers, teachers, carpenters, computer nerds, construction workers, college students, etc. playing on our team."

"One of the unique aspects of rugby is that it requires players of all shapes and sizes. Everyone is expected to run and catch and be physical," Burgher said. "You don't have to be some giant physical specimen. If you have the heart to play the game, then there is a place for you in rugby."

The Crusaders compete in an 18-team division, comprised of mostly Texas-based clubs and a club team from Fort Sill. There are 10 cup matches a season " five at home and five away. In 2008, the Crusaders won the regular-season title, but finished fourth in the playoffs.

Earning a spot at nationals is something the Crusaders have their sights set on this season, which begins Saturday with a home match against Denton at either "The Park," located at N. Ione and N.W. 58th, or Mitch Park, 1501 W. Covell in Edmond.

"We've got some fairly gifted athletes and very good players and good numbers, which is a great combination. And one of our main goals is to make it to nationals this season," said Burgher, who pointed out the Crusaders are always interested in bringing in new prospective players.

Maybe you are interested, but perhaps the rough nature of the game gives you pause?

"It is a rugged sport and you are probably going to get banged up the first couple of times you play. But once you get used to it and learn how to position your head and your body and adapt, it's great," Burgher said. "The thing you have to remember is rugby is a contact sport, but not a collision sport like football."

Rugby has a large following all across the country, and there are semipro leagues and club-team divisions at every major stop and many in between. The University of Oklahoma has had a rugby team since 1974, and towns like Norman, Edmond and Mustang pool their high school talent to form teams.

Sponsors are the lifeblood for most club teams, and the Crusaders are no different. With travel expenses, union costs, uniforms, socials and individual member dues, team organizers are always looking for financial assistance. And since the Crusaders are a nonprofit organization, donations are tax-deductible.

"It can get to be pretty expensive. But we've been fortunate to have some great people and places step up and help us, and that's definitely a key to having a successful club team," Burgher said.

"Belle Isle Brewery is hosting our social event after the game on Saturday, and without businesses like that agreeing to help us, it would be tough.""Jay C. Upchurch


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