Wake Forest rugby team shows resilience during pandemic school year

Despite ups and downs, a season unlike any other strengthened the club rugby team in more ways than one


Bruce Haywood, Contributing Writer

Throughout the 2020-2021 school year the Wake Forest Rugby Club (WFRC) has practiced every Tuesday and Thursday, fully masked and socially distanced. Yes, you read that correctly. Fully masked even while gasping for breath, sprinting through drills. 

This year, most conversations surrounding Wake Rugby have been slightly different than in years past. People are often shocked to learn that the team practices at all, and many raise questions or concerns regarding how players can socially-distance while playing an inherently physical and contact-driven sport. 

Admittedly, players on the team have shared these same questions, doubts and concerns at one point or another. Ben Hayes, who served as 2020 club president said, “Having played for the club since freshman year, I can say without a doubt this has been the most bizarre year we’ve ever experienced. That said, between student leadership, coaching staff, and campus offices we were able to find creative solutions to enable practice and competition, keeping the team active and involved.” 

The team certainly owes a huge thanks to Campus Recreation for sending a supervisor to each practice to ensure that practices can occur safely. The team has survived the challenge of practicing in a way that stays compliant with public health guidelines, and in many regards, doing so has actually allowed the team to grow stronger.

In the fall 2020 semester, the WFRC showed tremendous perseverance as they adjusted to a season without games, practices or coaches. Roster numbers remained intact, and the team enjoyed the influx of an excellent freshman class. Team chemistry strengthened as the players put an increased focus on team bonding activities, such as group dinners at the Pit. Furthermore, leadership grew in quality and quantity as players were required to lead their own practices, as campus health restrictions prevented coaches from coming to campus. Lastly, players’ skills improved because, without contact drills, practices focused on honing the fundamentals of passing techniques and nailing down the timing of key offensive and defensive plays. 

In the spring 2020 semester, the team built upon the momentum of the fall semester despite some initial bumps in the road. These were to be expected during a global pandemic, though. When the campus COVID-19 operating status moved to Orange in February, all team activities shut down. However, when the campus returned to Yellow status in March, Coach Doug Porter was welcomed back to practices for the first time since the pandemic began. 

At this time, the team also began their inter-squad two-hand-touch regular season, playing games every Thursday. Jonny Black, who was home for the fall semester, expressed a sentiment shared by many players when he said, “I missed seeing the boys and getting to hold contact-practices, even if it was just two-hand-touch.” 

On March 31, the team held a Zoom draft led by Jimmy Lomas, who served as the inter-squad league commissioner. Three teams drafted by seniors Jack Rozman, Grayson Reed and Bruce Haywood battled it out, working extremely hard all season as they geared up for an epic tournament to be held on Friday, April 30 on Poteat Field, a sort-of season finale. 

Current Vice President Nathaniel Walker, who helped lead practices and teach drills during the fall semester, had this to say about the spring season: “Being able to play touch and non-contact drills have really helped the team strengthen its fundamentals these past few months. The players have all worked really hard despite all the restrictions, and I’m very excited for our end-of-season tournament. I’m looking forward to seeing how our hard work translates to our performances, and I think that we’re going to have a really successful season next fall.”

As challenging as the 2020-2021 school year has been, the rugby team has made the most of it. Reflecting on the team’s progress, current President Jimmy Lomas shared that “[My] favorite part of our season has been witnessing how our team has grown closer in the face of adversity. We’ve learned how to develop brotherhood and team camaraderie, despite not being able to compete in a traditional season.” 

Coach Porter echoed Jimmy’s comments by saying that he was impressed by the team’s accomplishments. He also reaffirmed that the team “has a very solid chance to be a good team in the fall and compete at a high level.”

As a graduating senior and member of the team, if there is one word that I would use to characterize the 2020-2021 Wake Forest rugby team it would be “resilience.”