Kentucky Air Guardsman carrying the ball for USAF and Combined Services rugby teams
By Senior Airman Vicky Spesard, 123rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 23, 2013
KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Two yellow goal posts stand quietly in their own zones, one at each end of a glorious field of green marked with bright white lines at 10-meter intervals, waiting for a rugger to ground the ball in the in-goal area for the first five points of the season.
Master Sgt. Russ LeMay, a combat controller from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron, has been that player for both the U.S. Air Force and the Combined Services rugby teams in past seasons, and he hopes to be again in the upcoming seasons later this year.
A relatively new player to the sport, LeMay says rugby is his passion and that he was hooked from the start.
"I played football all through high school and never really thought of rugby," the Kentucky Air Guardsman said. "I had a friend invite me out to play with him for the Louisville Men's Rugby Club in 2009 and I couldn't get enough. I loved the speed of the game, the strategy and the team work of all 15 players on the field. It is an amazing sport that keeps you going."
That camaraderie, competition and love of the game is what compelled LeMay to try out for both of the national teams.
"These are high-level clubs," LeMay said. "Some of these guys are playing for the best teams in the nation. It's quite a step up from what normal club rugby is around the United States."
During his off time from the two teams and in between his duties with the Air Guard, LeMay plays with his Louisville squad and has encouraged other Air Guard members to join him.
"So far, we have five guys from the unit who are playing," he said. "We meet twice a week for practice, games on Saturday, and we always have a great time."
Indeed, rugby is a growing sport across the United States. In 2012, the number of active registered players has grown to more than 115,000, according to USA Rugby, the sport's governing body. The National Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association in 2010 ranked rugby as the fastest-growing sport in the nation.
Rugby will also make an appearance at 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio after being absent from the games since 1924.
"Not only is the sport growing here, it has begun to grow more in Kentucky and across parts of the United States," LeMay said. " It's awesome to see."