Beer, Pizza and Full-Contact Sports

By Beacon Staff

When they’re done tackling each other, the two teams get together for beer, pizza and, later in the evening, some raucous rugby songs. Knowledge of the correct lyrics is not required. Singing is.

Such is the routine for the Flathead Moose, a rugby team based out of Kalispell. Dave Nearing, who plays and serves as the team’s representative, said the culture of rugby relies on cooperation between teams.

“When we’re playing,” he said, “it looks like we’re trying to annihilate each other and afterward we go to Moose’s together.”

In the Montana Rugby Union (MRU), host teams usually provide a place to stay for visiting teams. There’s no bad blood. After games, the hosts offer food and drinks, which tends to lead to singing.

“We have fun,” Nearing said. “It’s like a giant fraternity.”

The Flathead Moose are one of eight teams in the MRU. They’re in a rebuilding stage. Nearing said only seven players are returning from last year’s team, with a few new guys joining too. A team needs 15 players to form a complete starting lineup, though rules allow a team to play with 13 if necessary. The Moose are searching for new players.

“We don’t discriminate against height, age, weight,” he said. “There’s a position out there for anyone.”

Since 1995, when the Moose won their last MRU championship, recruiting has been difficult, said Grant Fredenberg, the Moose’s captain. When the core players from those mid-1990s teams retired, the team never really reestablished a foundation of permanent players. One problem is that rugby is not a prominent sport in the area, Fredenberg said. Another problem, he said, is the fear of injury associated with a rough sport. Rugby has a reputation as a violent sport, an unfair stereotype, Fredenberg said.

“People think you’re going to get hurt – you’re going to lose your teeth,” Fredenberg said. “I don’t know if they’re getting it confused with hockey.”

MRU is one of the last rugby unions left in the U.S., Fredenberg said, consisting of all Montana teams except one from Spokane. Team names include the Maggots, Cutthroats and Crabs. Fredenberg said the union, as opposed to a league, helps rebuilding teams like the Moose. Everybody pays union dues and casts votes when an issue arises. The Moose have as much of a voice as any other team in the union.

“You can’t have one person come in and completely change something,” Fredenberg said.

Yuji Morisaki, the Moose’s coach, said although 15 players is the minimum for a full team, 20 to 25 players is ideal. The Moose have a long way to go to reach that number. The first step is getting people to come to practice, Morisaki said, before they can start playing.

“The important thing in rugby is to show up at practice because it’s a full-contact sport,” he said. “They need to be ready.”

The Moose begin indoor practice this week, Nearing said, and will get out on the field when the weather gets better. They practice twice a week and play home games at Hillcrest Park in Kalispell. On March 8, they kick off their game schedule at home against the University of Montana Jesters. In the meantime, the Moose will continue to recruit. Nearing remembers what Fredenberg told him two years ago when he was thinking about joining the team but hadn’t ever played before.

“Don’t worry about it,” Nearing recalls Fredenberg saying. “Come out and play and we’ll just teach you.”