CHELSEA PURGAHN, cpurgahn@tylerpaper.com

East Texas has always been known for its football. But Derek Fisher hopes it soon will also be known for rugby.

Fisher has a deep love for the sport, as he played rugby for 13 years internationally, including a few years in Barcelona, Spain. Not too long ago, he was chatting with a friend from Wales who told Fisher he should be doing more to develop rugby in the states and pass on his experience and knowledge to the people there.

"I realized he was right, and I decided to do something about it," Fisher said. With that, he founded Tyler Hoplites Rugby Football Club along with Trai Griffin and Jake Cardwell in February of this year and is the coach and director for the club.

Griffin is the president for the men's side and has been watching the sport for a few years. He says he'll always try something that will challenge him, so he started playing rugby last summer. "(Rugby) is a true brotherhood - I can go to New York and someone sees that I play rugby and they welcome me in and bring me to their local pub or invite me to their practice. We have several players who travel for work, and they're able to go to those other teams' practices."

"I randomly had a guy come up to me at a social event and ask me, 'Do you play rugby,' and I said, 'Who plays rugby in Tyler, Texas?' said Cardwell, who is now the vice president of the men's side. "I came out and tried it for a week - anything I do I give it more than one shot to see if I like it. After about three times, I said, 'I'm in.'"

"The biggest thing that drew me in was the community - like-minded people that want to get out and get active and are not scared to try something new, because for most of us, it is something new," he added.

Readers may wonder what hoplite means in the club's name. A hoplite is a heavily armed foot soldier whose function was to fight in a close phalanx formation. Hoplites would lock their shields together, and the first few ranks of soldiers would project their spears out over the first rank of shields, making frontal assaults from the enemy difficult, and allowing a higher proportion of soldiers to be actively engaged in combat.

"Our club takes inspiration from the ancient hoplites," the club's website says. "We are inclusive and strive to give everyone who is interested in rugby an opportunity to get involved. We believe in teamwork, and like the Greek hoplites, use our shields to protect our teammates."

"A lot of times guys who play football stop playing in high school or college and they don't have another outlet for a contact sport," Fisher said, noting that rugby is a sport that can fill that outlet. "East Texas women are tough and are looking for contact sports, too," he added.

About 15 to 25 men and women regularly attend the co-ed practice twice a week, where players work on fundamentals of the game and developing good technique. Fisher says the club plans to debut one mens and one womens team this fall.

You don't have to be on the team to come practice, though - the club is all-inclusive: "As long as people have a good attitude and want to give it a try, we want to help them," Fisher said. There are 15 different positions and each position has a certain skillset, so there is an opportunity for everyone to play, no matter your stature or your athletic ability.

Lyndsay Roberts, social media manager for the club, says rugby is a great way to incorporate cardio into her workout routine, but what she loves most about it is the teamwork: "It's not a one-man sport. You have to know your people and know how they work and what they're good at ... everyone that comes is welcoming and awesome."

"We want to use rugby as a vehicle to make people better for their families and community and we use the game as a method to do that - to help them think of something else other than themselves," Fisher said.

"We have a special situation right now and we want to leave a permanent, lasting legacy of rugby in Texas."

Practice is 6:45 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at 17032 Paluxy Drive. Players, especially those new to the sport, are encouraged to arrive about 10 minutes early. 

Twitter and Instagram: @Chelsea_Purgahn

 

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