Tough guys looking for a full-contact spring sport may have more options than they think.
While most high school sports programs offer football in the fall and wrestling in the winter, the only full-contact sport that the Michigan High School Athletic Association recognizes in the spring is lacrosse, which only a handful of schools offer.
But there is another alternative.
The Battle Creek Mercenaries High School club rugby team has thrived since 1996 with athletes that love hitting and aren’t afraid to get dirty.
The Mercenaries are currently wrapping up their 2014 spring season, as the team prepares for the High School Rugby State Championship Playoffs on May 17.
Rugby is a competitive sport that can be beneficial to all types of athletes. The sport not only develops toughness, but is also a sport of endurance and intelligence.
“A lot of the kids that play are football players, soccer players and wrestlers,” said Mercenaries head coach Scott Albers, who has been involved with the sport for more than 30 years through playing, refereeing and coaching. “It takes a different type of fitness. You need the strength and toughness of a football player and the endurance of a soccer player.
“The kids get into it and really enjoy it. Rugby training makes really good football players and soccer players make good rugby players because they’re used to the continuous flow of the game. Wrestlers are good too because they’re used to being in scrums and they can scrap for the ball.”
Mercenaries’ team captain Brett McDonald said he loves the team aspect and camaraderie of the sport, not to mention the hitting.
“It’s a continuous sport – the game’s always moving and you always have to be thinking,” said McDonald, a 17-year-old senior from Marshall High School who will join the Army after he graduates. “I like when you go into a tackle and you know you have three or four guys behind you, ready for you. It’s a team thing… and I really like hitting people, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Since rugby is still an under-the-radar sport for many people, it can be difficult to find enough players to field a team.
McDonald, who has played for the Mercenaries since he was a freshman, played a big hand in recruiting the players that make up the current team. Of the 20 players on the team, 15 are Marshall High students, while the rest come from Harper Creek and Lakeview.
“Most of the time we just picked (recruits) up and told them we were going to practice and after they saw it, they decided they really liked it,” McDonald said. “The game really speaks for itself. We didn’t need to do much after we got them out there the first time.”
The Mercenaries work closely with the Griffons, Battle Creek’s men’s rugby team, which plays during the fall and the spring. The two teams often practice or scrimmage with each other.
The Griffons are currently 1-3 this season, with two more games left on the schedule. Their last game of the season is at home on May 17 against Canton. The Griffons start league play this fall and welcome any new players to give the sport a try.
The Mercenaries are also 1-3 and have one more regular season game Thursday night in Grand Rapids before the High School Rugby State Championship Playoffs begin on May 17.
“I think we’re making a lot of progress this year,” said Albers. “We’re really looking forward to our game (Thursday) and then the playoffs after that.”