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SL Albatross help sport of rugby soar in NW Iowa

Thursday, June 6, 2002

SL side shines spotlight on English sport

When the Storm Lake Albatross rugby club team was hatched in town in 1983, the goal was to have fun and teach area residents about the unique English game.

Nineteen years after the first try was scored in Storm Lake, the goals of the organization are still the same, as local Albatross have helped the sport take flight throughout the region.

The Albatross, a club rugby team comprised of more than 20 players from a number of communities from northwest Iowa, compete against teams from across the Midwest every spring and fall, and Loren Brake, the player-coach for the squad, said the time spent out on the rugby pitch has been rewarding for both himself and for other members of the group.

"I've really had a great time playing rugby and getting to know a great bunch of people," Brake, 39, said. "We get to play a sport that we love, and we're able to have fun and meet people on our team and on other teams that we play. I've been doing it for 19 years, and I've enjoyed every minute of it."

"It's just a good time," Mike Keith, who has been in the Albatross nest since 1991, said. "It's a fun organization to be involved in and be able to keep taking part in competitive sports. Some people have something like woodworking or craftmaking as a hobby, and I'd have to say that rugby is my hobby. It's my extracurricular activity, and it's something that I really enjoy participating in."

The members of the Albatross flock hail from a number of towns across the region, including Storm Lake, Alta, Aurelia, Sioux Rapids, Cherokee, LeMars and Primghar, and range in age from 20-year old players to 44-year old Primghar lawyer Bill Klinker.

In addition to those on the roster with full-time jobs, the 25-man team also has a number of participants from Buena Vista University on its roster, helping to keep the team young and to instill a love of the game that the collegians will take with them to other communities when they graduate from school.

Playing with the Albatross was the first experience with rugby for many of the players, including 24-year old Daniel Bern, who began playing with the Storm Lake club four years ago after hearing about it from a friend.

"I had played sports in high school, and I wanted to keep on playing something, so I thought rugby would give me a chance to stay in shape," Bern said. "It's really been fun for me. It's been a great way to be active and to have a good time with the other guys on the team."

"A lot of my friends had been playing it for a while, so I thought it would be something to start getting involved in too," 28-year-old Mike Morrow, a Storm Lake resident, said. "It was hard to catch on to some of the rules at first, but I've really had a lot of fun in the four years that I've been playing."

The Albatross, who play home matches at Frank Starr Park, square off against a number of Iowa clubs, including the Iowa City Ducks, Quad City Irish, Polk County Wolf Pack, Jones County Gothics and the Cedar Rapids Head Hunters. The squad also plays against teams from campuses such as Luther College and Grinnell College, and matches up with other community sides based in towns like Iowa Falls, Algona, Davenport, Des Moines and Waterloo.

Storm Lake is one of 64 club and semi-professional rugby teams in Iowa, and Keith said the number of Iowa squads has grown considerably over the past few years as the sport has caught on among men and women of all ages in the state.

"Rugby's gotten a lot bigger in the U.S. over the past few years," Keith said. "Up until two or three years ago there were no high school teams anywhere and now there are high school teams in Des Moines, Omaha and Iowa Falls. The number of women's teams around the state has doubled in the past few years too, so it's really starting to become popular around the state and in the whole country. It's great to see."

A game which developed at Rugby School in England in the early Nineteenth Century, the first rules for rugby were developed at Cambridge University in 1863, and the Rugby Football Union, the sport's governing body, was founded in 1871. The sport has become a global pastime for many people, and is especially popular in countries with an English background, such as Australia and New Zealand.

The object of the game is to score as many points as possible by a variety of means, including tries, conversion kicks and penalty kicks. Tries, which occur when a player successfully carries a rugby ball across the opposition's goal line and setting it down behind the line, are worth five points, while conversion kicks, in which players attempt to kick the ball through crossbars located at the end zones, are worth two points.

Penalty kicks, which are similar to conversion kicks, are worth three points, and players can also score three points by drop-kicking the ball, shaped like an inflated American football, through the goalposts.

Keith said the Storm Lake squad, which had a winning record this year, has been invaluable in providing education about the game for young players just learning about rugby for the first time.

"Our team is a great starter team," Keith said. "And by that I mean that some of our guys play two to three years for us and then move away and start up teams in their new towns. We have enough guys on this team that can teach the younger ones about the game, and I think we've been able to do that in the past pretty successfully."

While the Albatross have helped spread knowledge about the game around northwest Iowa, the team has also helped pass along their sport to collegians in Wayne, Neb., as several Albatross traveled down to Wayne State University to help students there found their own rugby club.

Keith said the experience was beneficial for both the students and the Albatross, and was a symbol of why the Storm Lake organization has been in existence for so long.

"It was really a great time for us, because we were able to spread rugby to college kids who were really interested," Keith said. "That's what we're all about. We want to have fun and help people learn more about this game."

To sign up for the Albatross, contact Brake at 284-1153.

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