In the spring of 2011, a small group of Covenant students with a passion for rugby began the Covenant Rugby club. Led by 2012 graduate Scott McKeon, they paved the way for the legacy that continues today.
Admissions Counselor and 2015 graduate, Erik Vitolins, joined the club at the beginning of his freshman year. Vitolins and his friends worked hard to garner interest across campus, and they recruited classmates until they were ready to face Bryan College with a team of twenty-two players. Before playing Bryan, the team had their first ever match against the Chattanooga Rugby Football Club’s B-team, which they won. (The team still has a relationship with the Chattanooga Rugby Football Club, and Covenant gets to practice on the field downtown and learn from the older players.)
Now six years later, Erik is the Covenant rugby coach and still fondly remembers the club’s beginning. With Dan Glad as the club president, Lake McGinty as team captain, and Robert Moody as club treasurer, Covenant Rugby continues to progress.
For those who are unfamiliar with the rules of rugby, there are fifteen people on each team and their goal is to to score a “try,” which is worth five points. In order for a team to score, they must place the ball on the ground within the in-goal area.
Every player can score, but generally the eight “big guys” do the heavy hitting and the seven “small guys” focus on running and scoring. The “big guys” try to slow down gameplay and get the ball to the fast guys, but everyone can play both offense and defense. In rugby, the ball can only be passed backwards, and the game does not stop when a player is tackled. Instead, a tackled player tries to get the ball out to a teammate and the game continues.
Covenant Rugby’s spring season is different from the fall season because they play “sevens” in the spring. Instead of fifteen guys on a team, they play a faster-paced, and less intense version with seven guys on a team.
In the fall, conference games are scheduled for them, and playoffs are determined by wins and losses. In the spring however, Covenant is responsible for scheduling their own games. Sevens matches are tournament based, instead of playoff based. Part of the reason for playing sevens is that Covenant usually has less players in the spring, but the spring season offers a more relaxed time to focus on skill.
When asked what makes rugby so enjoyable, Dan Glad and Mike Hoffman, both playing for their third year at Covenant, answered that it combines all of the best aspects of different sports. Although often compared to football, rugby is more of an endurance sport and it requires a well-rounded athlete. Glad and Hoffman enjoy the challenge of running, wrestling, kicking, throwing, and every other skill needed in rugby.
According to Vitolins, “It's hard to beat the feeling of controlled chaos for 80 minutes . . . it's always fun limping to church the next morning or sporting a black eye for a few days.” Glad and Hoffman also mentioned how great the camaraderie and work ethic of the team is.
Coach Vitolins would agree that the guys on the team make it all worth it.
With fond memories of his own years playing, Vitolins says that he enjoys coaching because it’s a way to keep up with current students. Vitolins aims for the 2017-2018 season to prepare Covenant to join the upper division of the Dixie Rugby League, of which they are currently associate members.