Above: I creak into my accustomed place in the scrum in the May, 2003 WSRFC Alumni match.
May to July 2003
My recent thoughts have been possessed by the wonder and promise of digital photography, thanks to an article in a magazine a friend let me borrow. Oh, sure, I have been using a Kodak DC260 1.8 megapixel camera for rugby photography for four years, now. I have become well acquainted with the technology's advantages and failings. But what has my current interest is buying a Nikon digital SLR - so I can reuse the zoom lens from my film SLR - for family and rugby use.
Another thing keeping me mentally busy is that my son Ethan finally got his mission paperwork in place, and has received his called to Salt Lake City (South) Utah, of all places. Since he leaves on 10 September there's a lot of logistical (and spiritual) preparation to do ahead of time. Also, perhaps most importantly, my wife and I have come to consider that maybe it's time to move out of state. My work situation has deteriorated, thanks to some really bad hiring decisions (and decision-making in general) by the schmuck at the top. So I have begun looking elsewhere - always a time-consuming task.
We had a club "emergency meeting" in June as a result of some discontent with the coaching and officer situations, with the result that I am once again the secretary and webmaster. My current plans are to drop both at the end of the fall season.
All of which is to say that I am not even remotely thinking of rugby. Today, 22 July, is the date that Rover (the new head coach as a result of the meeting) selected as being the start of Fifteens season, but it is way too early for me. I haven't gone on vacation yet, haven't spent enough time in the pool or the hammock, haven't spent enough time with the family. So I'm not planning to attend practice until sometime in August - when I bloody well want to. What always annoys me about this time of year is that I'm about ready to strangle someone at work, and I have to convince family members that a vacation is needed. At the same time the rugby season begins - more work, more complicated Saturdays. So I am feeling decidedly put-upon. After five years of this - and it has been five years now since I first started attending practice - I'm due a season off, I think. Or longer.
Oh, I have no illusions that I'll entirely "quit" rugby. Every season begins with written speculations about quitting this sport - and every season ends with written regrets about not playing more. It's just that rugby is far less essential than it seemed before - and I have other important things on my mind.
Tuesday Evening Practice, 7/22/03
I'm not going. Too early in the year, it's too hot, I'm too distracted and too old. So there.
Thursday Evening Practice, 8/7/03
I attended just to try some shots with my new Nikon D100 6.1 megapixel digital SLR; they turned out great! I took nearly 200 shots in about an hour, removed the ones I didn't like to end up with about 120 and posted 40. No matter what else happens with this season, the match photographs ought to be good...
The first day of practice - for me. It was hot and humid, and being badly out of shape and unprepared for rugby, I merely ran some laps and did a brief scrum sled session. I had a couple of corn dogs for dinner beforehand - after five years of rugby you'd think I'd know better than that. Anyway, the season has begun. We had a better than average turnout (nearly 40), or so I'm told. I guess guys must have learned that I'd be starting practice this week. :)
Afterwards I jumped into the pool to cool off - one of the benefits of August practice, when the pool is open. And since we're at the Quarry the pool is less than a three mile drive down the turnpike. Still haven't gone on vacation, and, as a result, life seems like mighty drudgery.
Thursday Evening Practice, 8/14/03
If this wasn't the hottest and most humid day of practice that I've ever done, well, I just can't recall one that was worse, that's all. When I left the house it was about ninety degrees and near 60% humidity - and I thoroughly drenched a tee-shirt in sweat. I didn't practice - which, at this session was a scrimmage - but ran laps instead. Just keeping moving was a struggle, it was so uncomfortable. (And there were biting bugs everywhere.) But - I'm building up fitness and getitng back into the groove of practice. Had my old pal Kelly Watkins take a good photo of me with my old pal the scrum sled - you can see the wet shirt. Afterwards, Kate's Irish Pub in downtown Springfield to listen to a guitarist play morose Irish folk tunes. I completely undid whatever weight benefits I gained at practice by eating a plate of pasta alfredo.
Scrimmage with Frederick RFC, 8/16/03
I only showed up at Braddock Park to give my new Nikon D100 a workout. Wow, what an amazing camera! In about an hour and a half I took about 330 photos; after weeding out the bad ones 270 were left. Then I Photoshop enhanced some and posted them. Some of these look like they belong in Sports Illustrated!
Thursday Evening Practice, 8/21/03
Did the New Zealand Cross and some plays off the scrum sled, and then laps - the most serious I have gotten so far this season. Since I announced via e-mail that I'd be on vacation and out of the loop for website updates, people kept telling me, "I thought you were on vacation." An upcoming family vacation and the departure of my son Ethan on a two year mission for my church are major distractions... it is very hard to think rugby.
Matches with Raleigh RFC, 9/6/03
I stopped by for about an hour and a half to take photos. Didn't play; didn't want to play. All I really wanted to do was go home and spend some remaining time with my son. The photos, however, turned out pretty good.
All I really wanted on this warm and very humid day was a half, but got two 20 minute periods instead, turnout being not very good. We lost 12-19; the first half was very competitive, but fitness made the difference in the second half. I was dying! Trying to play on a humid day - going into the match somewhat dehyrated - after blowing off practice is not wise. But - the scrums went very well. We dove the opposition pack all over the place. But it was not an especially good first showing for me and I played what I thought was an undistinquished match.
Took lots of photos, and handed off the Nikon to the girlfriend of one of the players (who shoots a Nikon herself) for the second match. She got some great photos of the match I was in. The photos I'm in only convince me that I'm too old, slow and fat to play this game...
Tuesday Evening Practice, 9/16/03
Did some four corners, did some full pace/full contact rucking wearing really smelly vests. As I knew practice was going to be canceled on Thursday because of an approaching hurricane Isabel, and that a Saturday match at Norfolk was iffy due to schedule and the aforementioned hurricane, I quit early. While I don't mind getting banged up and bruised in a match, I'm reluctant to do it in a completely optional practice session! Chalk it up to laziness more than wisdom.
Match with Roanoke RFC, 9/27/03
Didn't play - cheerleading duty interfered. I didn't attend practice on the preceding week, either, because of back-to-school nights. I once read in an article that rugby was a great game to photograph, but I didn't really understand why completely until this weekend. I had to leave the Roanoke match to take my daughter to a Springfield Youth Club football game, where she and her squad were doing cheerleading; I provide the sound for the half-time show they do. (I announced, "And now, the Springfield Youth Club is proud to present the Bulldogs Cheerleaders, under the direction of Coach Morgan Freeman!" The coaches' name is Morgan Chambers.) Anyway, I took a few hundred shots there with the Nikon and when I got home I realized that football photography misses one dramatic thing that rugby shots often have: facial expressions! Every now and then I'd get a shot with perhaps some eyes showing under a helmet, but that's about it. Nothing as dramatic as the thirty or so great images with facial expressions I've taken this early in the rugby season. So… not only is rugby the world's greatest team sport - it's also the world's greatest team sport to photograph!
Tuesday evening practice, 9/30/03
Due to fading daylight at the "Quarry" practice pitch, a really short session. Some four corners - I ran laps - and then a few minutes doing a running drill. Due to the fact that I was running laps while the rest of the club was standing around listening to instruction, this may be the only time that I exerted myself more during a practice session than the rest of the club! Since it appears that my daughter's cheerleading game schedule does not interfere with the rugby matches, it appears that this season will finally be getting underway for me. There are four or five matches left (depending upon when our hurricane-postponed game will be played). I should be able to make most of them, I think.
Thursday evening practice, 10/2/03
The first night back at the Dustbin was celebrated in the usual fashion. Before practice, when ruggers take out their daily aggressions by fiercely kicking rugby balls around, Jesse kicked a ball high into the air with a mighty whack. It lodged fast between a support beam and the ceiling. We now have three rugby balls stuck there - one for each fall season we've used the Dustbin. I think I'll ask South Run to move a hydraulic lift into the place so I can spray paint "'01," "'02" and "'03" onto the balls - in addition to a big "Go Hard or Go Home!" We did four corners, a passing drill and then played a sort of annoying basketball/rugby game - very much like touch rugby. I was the goalie/scorer; the guy standing in the box. That's fine with me - I hate this game - but it cruelly exposed what a lousy ball-catcher I am. Anyway, this little activity kicked up plenty of dust - another traditional aspect of using the dustbin. Conversations afterwards established that the new guys got a fine appreciation for the place; I pointed out that they'll really enjoy it more when they blow their noses and see that they have brought home a not inconsiderable amount of the dustbin with them. Be it ever so humble. Since none of the after-practice drinkers were present, there was no visit to the Hop Frog Tavern or Kate's Irish Pub, so it seemed like a really weird Thursday practice. I ate dinner at home. Deplorable.
Match with United RFC, 10/4/03
I attended practice this week intending to play this Saturday - in fact, I was really looking forward to it - but United declined to play a second match. They only brought seventeen players to play and MARFU scheduled them for a match on the next day. A quick intersquad game of sevens was put on, but I declined to play in that because I think sevens is a waste of time and not rugby at all. This Saturday was a disappointment to me in that I gave up doing something rather important with my daughter on Thursday to attend practice; I am now questioning whether I ought to put any time or effort into rugby at all for the rest of the season. The truth is, I am burned out with club logistics and business... I won't be at practice at all this coming week, and Saturday is a BYE week. Another special feature of this particular day was getting stung in the lip by a bee. I wasn't looking as I was raising a can of carb drink to my mouth, and that's when the collision between me and the bee took place.
After giving it much thought over the weekend, I sent the following to the officers and coaches of Western Suburbs:
I've been wrestling with when I should formally announce this, but I think now's the time.
At the end of this season I will be stepping down as both the secretary and webmaster. A major reason is that after four years as secretary and five years as webmaster, I am becoming burned out.
Another major reason is that helping to run WSRFC takes time and energy away from a church calling I have. When I took up rugby in 1998 I had a less demanding calling. Two years ago I received a much more demanding one, and I feel guilty about not properly giving it the amount of time or attention it needs. Now that my son provides an example as a full-time missionary, I feel even guiltier about it.
Also, I only have a few more years to spend supporting my children in their activities before they are grown. And finally, my work situation more than provides me with my daily amount of frustration.
While it is true that I could probably continue doing the website - as I still enjoy the creative aspect of it - I learned that it drags me back into administration. So it's time for somebody else to take over. I will, of course, help whomever the club decides to appoint as the webmaster with where files are and how the credit card billing sets transferred.
To be honest, I do not know how much of a player I'll be with the club. Taking a season or two off after eleven active seasons makes sense. It may be that I'll take up playing with the Old Boys, as was my intent when I joined. (Although Sunday matches means I won't be playing much.) Or I may simply become a social member and photographer.
I plan to announce this via e-mail and website posting as we get closer to the end of the season.
Thanks for your support and patience with me over the years...
So there it is. I may play rugby again, I might not. Knowing myself as I do, however, it's likely that my rugby days are ending. While it's possible that I could be photographing matches and going to the parties afterwards, a participatory gulf will exist if I don't play. I know this because I experienced it when I did Civil War reenacting. I once showed up, dressed in 20th C. clothing, to a camp where my unit was. They chatted with me, but I felt the lack of something because I was not also sweating in a wool uniform - closeness or fellowship, perhaps shared misery - that led me to feel that I was distinctly not a part of what was going on. I have no doubt that this will be truer in rugby, since the physical aspects of play are so demanding. And at heart I am a participant, not a spectator. It's just not enough for me to watch.
But that's okay. I'm 47. While middle age is a mystery to me, just as my teenage years were, and while I'm not sure what it is I should be doing (outside of church activities, of course, where I know exactly what's expected of me), I keep having the feeling that it's time to grow up and act my age. Whatever that means.
Tuesday evening practice, 10/14/03
Thanks to a BYE I took a week away from rugby. Absence maketh the heart grow fonder. I did all of the practice activities tonight: four corners, some light scrums, lineouts, unopposed linking plays to the backs - and enjoyed myself. Of course, should we resume long practice sessions of playing touch rugby or full pace/full contact rugby on the hard dirt floor again that might go away real fast... Another thing, oddly enough, that caused my change in attitude was doing Photoshop color and brightness alterations on the really nice digital images I'm taking of the youth football team Meredith is doing cheerleading for. Looking at my action photos of teens playing football reminds me of how cool rugby is, and how much I have enjoyed it. It also causes me to wonder why I was so afraid of athletics when I was a teen myself. I know now that I could have been on the Burbank High football team, given some work. Playing a harder game as an older man proves that. However, nothing in the way I was raised or my interests at the time would have lead to that. It's just as well, I suppose. I'd be a entirely broken-down forty-something with bad knees instead of the lazy forty-something with good knees I am today.
Thursday evening practice, 10/16/03
Well, that figures. I write about how good my knees are and in the very next practice session I hurt one!
For most of this session we did full pace/full contact opposed play with padded vests, although I noticed that towards the end the pace and the impacts lessened considerably. (We do have a match coming up on Saturday, after all.) I acquitted myself honorably until I got thown backwards and attempted to stabilize myself with a stiffened left leg, which caused a shock to my ankle and knee. I walked that one out for awhile, talking to a visiting Kelly Watkins, and then got back in. And got back out again after ten or fifteen minutes, when I again received a jolt to my knee which caused it to start talking to me. So, expecting to play on Saturday, I stopped. As of this writing (Friday afternoon), my knee is still sore - but, play I will.
It was a beautiful day on a beautiful pitch: a little stream flowed by, church spires rose above the nearby downtown Frederick district, and a bell tower sounded the half-hours. I asked Coddy if this was what England looked like, and he responded that generally the towers are on hills. Someday perhaps I'll see for myself. But it was a very picturesque setting for my 75th rugby match nonetheless. I had some worries about what playing shape my knee were in, which became a real concern the minute I started running about. I kept feeling twinges of pain whenever I did something which required something other than putting my leg squarely down on the ground - like changes of direction, for instance. Consequently, I was sort of cautiously running through the first half. One result of this was that since I was slow to rucks I'd hang out on defense on one or another side of the ruck, awaiting a tackle. I did a number of these. I also got the ball once and advanced about 10 yards before getting tackled. (Rebecca Nelson, a girlfriend of one of the players and a Nikon user, got a photo of this. I hand off the D100 to her when I play. ) We got two quick tries in the first ten minutes or so, then the rest of the game was all Frederick - we lost 10-54! At halftime I was going to play on but another fellow offered to go in - we brought slightly more than two full sides - so I only played a thirty-minute half. Probably a good thing. As it was, I was limping around that night and the next day. So... not a bad game, but not an especially good one, either. It sure is nice to play in cooler weather. As this coming Saturday is a BYE I'll skip practice and let the knee heal for the next matches, which fall on three Saturdays in a row in November.
At least, at my age, I'm playing. On the Friday night before this game we went to watch the Lee High School Homecoming (football) game; this was only my third high school football game in my life. My daughter Julie, who takes American Sign Language, was signing the national anthem during the opening ceremony. And once again, as in Ethan's lacrosse days, I sat and watched a lineup of enthusiastic young players suited up and watching the game from the bench. Some never got any playing time at all, but that didn't stop them from cheering and roaring when their teammates scored touchdowns - which I found sad and curiously affecting. High school athletics is so unfair... long live club rugby, where you often get more playing time than you want!
On Sunday, my daughter had cheerleading at a 5:30 Springfield Youth Club football game, but upon arrival at the field we discovered that the game was moved to 3:30 and was over. The football coach never got the word to the cheerleading coach. This is very annoying. As the club secretary I can get 32 guys out to a pitch an hour away, on time. Springfield Youth Club are supposed to be professionals. So, once again I was upset about playing time - this time on behalf of my daughter.
Tuesday evening practice, 10/28/03
Another BYE week away from rugby and rugby practice, this time letting my knee heal. And the original injury did. But then, somehow, I got another, more painful knee injury as a result of some non-rugby activity, I don't know what. So I wrapped it with an Ace bandage where it hurt and started out okay doing four corners. But as we began to do opposed defensive drills it began to hurt again. At one point, when it really began hurting and making me limp, I got out of the drills. So, the plan now is to not run around at Thursday practice so as to be able to play on Saturday. We have three matches this coming Saturday: an A-side, B-side and an Old Boys match. I hope to play in two of them. I shall let you, Gentle Reader, guess which ones. Anyway, we did an interesting defensive line - being not quick enough to get into most of the rucks has some advantages in that I can line up and make a tackle with the first person to get the ball from the scrum-half. It also helps solve the old problem of too many players committing into the ruck.
It was too warm for my taste on this day - about 80 degrees. But I played the two thirty minute halves of this match and enjoyed myself. My knee didn't bother me in the least, which was a welcome revelation. I would have enjoyed myself more had we won; as it was the score was a dismal 7-55 loss. As the score suggests, we did a lot of defensive plays, and I got in a number of good tackles. I'm finally learning not to get into a ruck needlessly. I made a short advance at one point in the match, caught the kickoff ball at another, and, later, almost had my first try. I got the ball and a hole opened up in front of me about twenty feet or so away. However, one of Gorge's countless shaven headed, goateed fat guys managed to grasp my lower right leg and sort of trip me up and halt me. I was too far to reach out with the ball to place it over the try line, too, so I had no choice but to simply place it to set up the next phase of play. Everyone was telling me afterwards that it sure looked like that was going to be my opportunity - which didn't help at all. Rebecca Nelson got a shot of me with the ball, see image at left. Anyway, it was nice to play a complete match.
OLD BOYS MATCH WITH ROCKY GORGE OLD BOYS, 11/1/03
I had mentally prepared myself to play two matches on this day, but the Old Boys match was only an additional thirty minute half which I also played. Sadly, we lost this one, too - I didn't get the score. At one point in the match a guy about my size had the ball and I tackled him - the onlookers say we both sort of collided and landed on our backs wheezing loudly, grasping our rib cages in about the same place. It must have been funny to watch. Anyway, I stood out for a couple of minutes and decided that I wanted to get back into the match, which I did. So, on this day I played more rugby than I normally do. I felt pretty good at the end, too, and not too sore. It's funny. Now, at the very tail end of the season, I am much more enthusiastic about rugby than I have been for at least a few seasons, and I'm looking forward to not only practice, but playing a match with Irish "B" next Saturday and maybe two matches at the season-closing tournament on the Saturday following that!
Tuesday evening practice, 11/5/03
Well, this season is crawling to a halt in an ignominious fashion. I was one of twelve to show up. We hung around for a half hour waiting for guys to arrive, then a decision was made to play some touch rugby. This caused me decide to jog for 33 minutes. I have this notion in my mind that I'd like to train to run the Marine Corps Marathon next October. I hope this notion goes away.
Thursday evening practice, 11/7/03
Another poorly-attended practice attendance (thirteen), another game of touch rugby - and another jogging session for me. Nine of us went to the Hop Frog Tavern, and Kelly aptly described things with, "The season ends with a whimper."
B SIDE MATCH WITH THE WASHINGTON IRISH RFC, 11/8/03
My 78th, and possibly final, match. A brisk, cold autumn day. (It's about time.) This being a home game all sorts of players turned up, so we had two sides. We had three locks for the b-side, one of the two newer guys played the first half and I came in for another on the second. The cooler weather really makes a difference - I was able to run and run, and when Harpy blew the whistle at 35 minutes I still had energy to spare. It was an okay half; I got some good tackles in and got the ball at one point, but the Washington Irish aren't the kind of club to simply allow opposition players to blow by to the try line, so I was quickly tackled. At one point I got a fingernail jammed into something or someone which caused it to pull it away a little, so that was kind of sore. The score was a bad loss (0-55) so I can't claim that we did much right, but at least the scrums solidified somewhat in the second half... and, as usual, I'm glad I played.
But I'm also glad this season is finished!
SEASON HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
(It's a tradition.)
1. Rugby photography - As I figured, that Nikon D100 is a vast improvement over the Kodak digital camera I was using. In fact, it has completely changed my attitude about photography. Getting the shot I want is now almost a sure thing. Before, it was equal parts cost (how much film do I want to expend?) and guesswork. This season I have consistenly taken images that look professional... and if they don't come out exactly the way I want I can usually get them that way using Photoshop. I have now taken thousand of rugby shots with that camera. In fact, I have taken far more in the four months that I've had the D100 than I did in the nearly thirty years I was using my Pentax K-1000 SLR!
2. Rebecca Nelson - Normally, I hand the camera off to somebody when I play and get shots of guys across the field standing around, or really badly-framed images. Rebecca, however, knows how to use an SLR and has been getting great shots of me and others playing. Hooray! Another club photographer!
3. My change in attitude - For some reason I no longer fret and dread matches as much as I did in prior seasons. I guess, after 78 matches, I'm finally becoming more confident about play. I'm certainly getting better about defense. Before I'd run to try to involve myself in the breakdowns. Now I take part in reforming a defensive line - which means I'm doing more tackling.
4. No big injuries - but then, I didn't play or practice much.
1. Numbers - We had to start the season off by announcing that we didn't have enough players to field a side to compete in Division III play, then we had to cancel a late season tournament for the same reason. Practice numbers were low all season... why? It could have been that bad karma meeting we had in summer, when we changed coaches. Or perhaps it's just a cycle in rugby. But one would think that numbers would be up slightly in a season that corresponds with a Rugby World Cup. I guess this shows how little publicity rugby has in the United States.
2. The Quarry and the Dustbin - It's bad enough that guys pre-injure themselves in the Sevens season without having to turn ankles playing rugby on hard dirt. But... no grassy fields seem to be becoming available in Fairfax County.
3. That try that almost was in the match against Gorge - I don't even like thinking about it, let alone writing about it.
4. The new MARFU b-side competition - It would have been a better idea if more clubs had real b-sides. The numbers just aren't there for it to make sense.
5. United RFC didn't play a second match - I really wanted to play that day. This occasion started me to think about the amount of time I spent at practice in relation to my actual playing time. An observation this season is that practice time doesn't translate to playing time, so why bother? I think I'll be spending even less time at practice next season, that is, assuming I'm still active next season. For some odd reason all I'm really in a mood to do lately is jog. But that's a good thing as I'm overweight and have higher blood pressure than before. Clearly, off-season fitness is strongly recommended...
Rugby Season Twelve journal