Rugby returns to Oregon’s south coast

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COOS BAY, Ore. (AP) - Rugby, welcome back to the Bay Area.

After nearly 40 years without an organized team, the Bay Area Ruggers are trying to introduce rugby back to the South Coast.

Back in the ‘70s, a club team that went by the name “Bay Area Low Life Sliders” played for the better part of the decade before disbanding.

Now the Ruggers and team founder Lee Palmer are keying in on introducing the sport to 21st century athletes. The first hurdle for Palmer is teaching people what rugby really is.

“You hear rugby and you think about these big scary guys. It’s really not (like that),” Palmer explained as his team warmed up during a practice at Sunset Middle School. “It’s a bunch of local guys really into getting fit, having a good time and playing a game.”

Most people Palmer gets are neophytes when they hit the pitch, but some do come with a rudimentary understanding. They know passes have to go backward, the game involves scrums and the ball’s shape is slightly more rounded than a football. But the main draw is the aggression and physicality that comes with rugby.

Rugby takes it out of you. It’s a healthy way to get rid of aggression for sure,” first-timer Don Harvey said. “It’s intense for a lot of people but it also satisfies the trouble-making part of you.”

The season kicks off this June, but the Ruggers will have friendlies that begin this weekend. They’ll head down to Medford to play Southern Oregon University, Oregon Institute of Technology and Rogue River to try to get game experience before the season starts.

Once the games start mattering in June, the Ruggers will face teams from all over the Pacific Northwest throughout the summer.

Palmer is focused on growing the team and sport in the area.

“It’s a small area and rugby is intimidating,” Palmer said. “The idea of rugby is tough. For the new guys who come out here, it takes a real effort to learn the game because it’s so different from anything they’ve ever done. I went from college football to this and it’s so different.”

Palmer has been part of the sport for the past 14 years. He played cornerback for the University of Montana football team during college, but after school he wanted to keep playing some kind of contact sport. His younger brother talked him into playing for a local team - the Missoula All-Maggots - and he ended up playing on it for five years.

His work forced him to bounce around from team to team until he landed in the Bay Area just a few years ago.

Palmer wanted to keep playing, but the closest team was in Eugene. With that kind of commute not really a practical option, Palmer opted to do the next best thing - start his own team.

So in 2011, Palmer decided to start a team at Southwestern Oregon Community College.

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