American Rugger: The Highwaymen at Maggotfest
2012 Finalist at The San Francisco's Epidemic Film Festival
American Rugger is an introspective look into the flailing subculture attached to American rugby. Rugby has exploded across the U.S. with over a 300 percent growth rate since 2004. Rugby is gaining national media attention; with rugby seven’s being introduced in the 2016 Summer Olympics, as well as the Collegiate Rugby Championship being televised on NBC. Rugby has captured the foregone attention of many Americans with Hollywood films such as Forever Strong and Invictus. Rugby is gaining credibility with sport enthusiast as rugby seven’s is now a NCAA sanctioned sport. With this surge of popularity, the culture and the traditions championed by the rugby renaissance of the 1960’s and 70’s are slowly fading into obscurity. American Rugger captures the essence of this fleeting subculture and the sacrifices it takes to move the sport forward on a national level.
American Rugger traces the origins of rugby back to the 1400’s, shows how rugby matriculated to the U.S., and how American football evolved from rugby. This journey shown through interviews, historical documents, and entertaining reenactments of historical happenings. It follows the first US Olympic Rugby team as they upset the French rugby team in 1920, winning the first Gold medal in Olympic history. We are transported back to 1926 as they repeat taking gold from the French again.
The American rugby renaissance of the 1960’s and 70’s is portrayed through interviews of former players, and founders of the game throughout the heartland of America. These “Old Boys” stories of camaraderie and brotherhood resound through hysterical recounts, and reenactments of the wild and crazy days of rugby. Women’s rugby takes stage as their brief, but successful history is explained, starting with their championship at the first women’s rugby world cup in 1991. The oldest rugby tournament in North America is seen through the eyes of a women’s rugby team, while they play in the Can-Am Saranac Lake rugby tournament.
Following the traveling side of the Highwaymen Rugby Football Club, we travel to Montana for an eye opening and jaw dropping experience know as Maggotfest. Maggotfest rugby tournament in Missoula, Montana, has been played since the rugby renaissance in 1977. The traditions and crazy antics of American Rugby take stage as we explore the hooligan shenanigans of the Highwaymen. These shenanigans are tamed down in comparison to the 1982 Oakland Rugby Football Club from Pittsburgh, PA. Some Students from the University of Pittsburgh’s Dental School were caught warming up with severed cadaver heads before a rugby game.
In contrast to the outlandish actions of the past, rugby is striving on college campuses across the nation. UC Berkeley’s rugby team has won 25 national championships since 1980. They have been the pinnacle of collegiate rugby for years but are now having stronger competition as the south rises to the national stage in rugby. Arkansas State University is examined as we see the importance of the “Old Boy” support through their Alumni system.
We witness the spectacle of the alumni game, where former players, of all ages, comes back to play the current team. The Universities of Kansas State, and Humboldt State allows us to experience this unique bond between former players and current players. With computer imaging, we get to see how former players in their prime match up against current players. As we hear personal accounts of camaraderie and former glory, we see that similar bonds are timeless even though traditions are fading away. Singing used to be a staple in all Rugby Football Clubs, and most teams used to have a team song. Rugby songs are very crude and vulgar for those in earshot, but are sung in high spirits and in good humor. Traditions like this, as well as “shooting the boot,” and a “Zulu dance” are traced back to their beginnings as Alumni try to pass on their traditions.
The rise of popularity of rugby in America can be attributed to more media coverage, NCAA sanctioning, but stems from the rising youth programs in the US. As the CEO of USA Rugby, Nigel Melville explains, the focus on youth rugby is paramount in the advancement of US Rugby on the global scale. Programs in New Orleans, Kansas City and Sacramento are highlighted in this expose of high school rugby.
The efforts of Play Rugby located in NYC are followed through some tough inner city schools, as we see the difference rugby can make to children of all walks of life. Founder, and former US Eagle, Mark Griffin discusses his vision for Play Rugby, and the personal sacrifices he made to make it happen. The success of Hyde High School is a heartfelt story of redemption through rugby. The saving grace of rugby is examined in Oakland, CA, when the Oakland Warthog RFC shares their off field victories along with their tragic history. The success of these high school programs may not have ever happened if it wasn’t for the trailblazers before. The Greywolves RFC is a US minority team that travels across the US to play in tournaments. While in town, the Greywolves volunteer their time at various middle schools, magnet schools as well as high schools to promote a positive message and help troubled youth find a productive outlet for their frustrations.
Finally USA Rugby takes center stage. The hard work and dedication it takes for players to make the squad is shown through the plight of potential Eagles. The US Olympic Rugby squad is followed on their overseas tours leading up to the Olympics. Coach Alex Magleby addresses the obstacles in repeating as gold medalist in this passionate David and Goliath story.
As we come to an end of this exploration of American Rugby, we revisit the Highwaymen on various other tours. We share in their crazy antics. Through this exploration of American rugby, we see the alluring charm of the camaraderie and traditions of old juxtaposed against the modern day drive to legitimize the sport. In the end the evolution of rugby in America may one day be a marketable force in the sporting area, rivaling the likes of Football, Basketball, Baseball and Hockey. If rugby ever gets to center stage one thing that will set this sport apart from all others is its wild, chaotic past. The camaraderie found in this barbaric sport played by gentlemen, will always set it apart from all other sports.