A brawny, sunburned lad sprawls in the greening grass, seemingly sound asleep, using as a pillow the tummy of a pretty, barefoot fan with a blond ponytail. Spent Gatorade bottles scatter the scene. Bits of red-and-black uniforms, sweat-soaked and a few blood-spotted, hang helter-skelter on the fence nearby.
Welcome to the camp of The Albatross, one minute the scene of bone-crushing high-impact sport, the next of gentle, relaxed camaraderie while awaiting the next battle. A baby in a ball cap looks on, as does a golden retriever puppy. To call it informal would be an understatement.
The storied Storm Lake rugby club kicked off its 20th anniversary season Saturday by hosting a massive tournament at the local airport, 12 teams competing on three fields in men's and women's divisions - all intent on good-naturedly kicking the stuffing out of one another, then clasping hands and cheering each other moments later. One player's shirt said, "If it ain't broke, hit it harder."
The sport is a wild, no-pads mix of soccer, football and a pub brawl, all wrapped up in old-world charm and enduring traditions of the game. The ball can only be advanced by running, kicking or lateral pass, and play seldom stops. When a player is tackled, he or she must release the ball for a teammate or opponent to grab and sprint away with. Teams thrust a player high into the air for an inbounds pass, and the signature move of the sport, the scrum, ia a highly-organized art of chaos as teams grunt and push in a giant huddled knot, under the object of their effort squirts free, and the cry goes up, "ball's out!"
The Albatross is gaining a solid fan base in Storm Lake. There's barely room on the sidelines to squeeze in your cooler and a blanket, the laid-back, preferred means of viewing this sport. "I have no idea what the rules are, but whenever I see the players throw their hands in the air, I figure it's time to cheer," says one female fan.
Find out more about this wild game, pick up your copy of the Pilot Tribune today - 732-3130.