MADISON- The sport of rugby originated in England in the 19th century and has been known as rugby football. The sport migrated to the United States in the 20th century and officially came to the Huntsville area in the 70’s by being played as a club sport at UAH. In 1978, the Huntsville Rugby Club was formed by the late Jerry Willis, a retired Veteran and youth sports director, who watched his two sons play and decided to form an official club.
Today, the Huntsville Rugby Club has 41 active members and for the first time launched a women’s team to go along with the long-standing men’s squad. After just two months of announcing the women’s squad, 15 women have registered to try their hand at what can be a physical and brutal outing on the field.
Gregg Dellert began playing rugby in 1993 while in school during his 20 years in the U.S. Army. He tried the sport after encouragement from a roommate and soon fell in love with the rough and tough nearly 200-year old athletic endeavor.
“I loved what it offered of its physicality and comradery,” said Dellert. “I’ve been at it ever since. Not many sports give an adult a chance to play a very physical sport like rugby. Learning the long traditions the sport has makes the comradery very special. You won’t find another sport like it.”
The 48 year old Dellert has suffered through many injuries he’s suffered playing rugby, but said, “That’s part of the game as it’s always a risk.”
Nearly two years ago Dellert underwent hip replacement surgery. His surgery was not related to rugby, but it was enough for him to hang up his cleats as he’s now the president of the Huntsville Rugby Club.
As for the women’s squad, one of the first to register to play was Dellert’s daughter, Eliza, and his wife Melinda. The 22-year old Eliza was an athlete in her own right running cross country and track and participating in horse jumping. Growing up she would help out her father and the team and when the announcement came for the formation of a women’s team, she was eager to join in.
Alexis Lynd, a California native who recently relocated to North Alabama, decided to kick off the women’s program and was the first to register.
“Everyone is welcome to the team and no experience is necessary as we have players ranging in ages 20-50,” said Lynd. “Players learn and are coached at all levels of talent.”
In both the men and women’s teams, players come from all walks of life and include an array of professions, fitness levels and backgrounds.
Simone Bontly, a 14-year veteran as a rugby player and 10 years as a coach of the sport, is the head coach and player when needed of the women’s squad. Her husband, Aaron, and their two sons, Tate, 21, and Raleigh, 17, also suit up for action in the program as the extended comradery atmosphere includes special family time with rugby.
“I played sports and I’m a sports lover, plus, I’m very competitive and while on trips for Aaron to play, I saw women’s teams going at it prior to the men’s matches,” said Bontly, 41. “For women it’s engrained in us a sport like rugby is dangerous, but safety is our number one rule and we take care of each other. For me it was the overall thrill to hit others over and over again, although the physical aspect of the sport is really outside our normal comfort zone, but it’s fascinating.”
In rugby, players can run with and kick the ball, but can only pass it backwards. Points are scored in various ways similar to football, but with no protective clothing or pads like those worn in football, all play is held full contact.
The rosters for the teams continue to expand with the fall season hoping to get underway after the current COVID-19 situation allows for matches to be held.
The rugby season runs February-June for its spring season and a fall season, which runs from August-November. Matches are played at the Rick Cooper Memorial Park on Triana Blvd. in southwest Huntsville.
“We’re here. We’re going to stay as our women’s team is for everyone- no matter what shape or size,” added Bontly.
With numerous former players still members of the club putting the total membership at 100, the Huntsville Rugby Club continues to expand with information for those wishing to join available on the club’s Facebook page. Dellert also said information can be obtained by his e-mail: [email protected]. Women’s team information can be obtained via Bontly’s e-mail: [email protected].