NWI Exiles rugby club celebrates 40th season

2013-10-07T17:00:00Z 2013-10-08T01:32:05Z NWI Exiles rugby club celebrates 40th seasonJohn Burbridge, (219) 933-3371

HOBART | What happens on the rugby pitch stays on the rugby pitch.

That's a good thing, as assault and battery remain criminal offenses in most states.

"We may fight each other out there and go at each other real hard, but after the game not only do the two teams shake hands, they go out and drink and party together," former Northwest Indiana Exiles Rugby Club member Chuck Shippen said. "That's the way rugby is."

When the Exiles hosted the Rockford Ravens on Saturday at the Hobart Rugby Pitch, everything went according to script. During a rough-and-tumble match on a rain-softened field, there were several alleged punches and elbows thrown as well as perfunctory swearing. After the game, which the Exiles won, both teams offered a group salute to each other and many of the Rockford players stayed on to help the Exiles celebrate during the club's 40th anniversary festivities.

Founding Exiles member Steve Fressle was on hand.

"We started as the Gary Rugby Club  in 1973 before moving on to  South Haven before finally ending up here," said Fressle, who, like Shippen, is a burly former high school football player who sought another physical sport in which to participate after his prep playing days were over.

"While I was at (Indiana University), they had a rugby club, which I believe is celebrating its 50th season," Fressle said. "I soon found out what a great sport it is and decided to start something here."

While still in their vagabond days, the Exiles traveled overseas to play in a tournament in London.

"We got our (butts) kicked," Shippen said, "but it was a great experience."

The trip was spearheaded by Great Britain expatriate Steve Peacey, who played briefly for the Exiles in the early 1980s while teaching at Pierce Middle School in Merrillville as part of a teacher exchange program.

"I read in the paper about this guy and the exchange program, and I saw that he liked to play rugby," longtime Exiles president Steve Potter said. "So I contacted him about playing for us."

Peacey now is a high school principal back home. He made the trip to Hobart to participant in the club's anniversary which included an "Old Boys" match featuring current and former Exiles players.

"I had such a fantastic time during the two years I played with them that I had to come back for this," Peacey said. "I still play, but my school doesn't have a rugby team. Over there, we keep school and athletics separate."

With the win over Rockford, the Exiles improved to 5-2. Kyle Morris scored three trys (rugby's equivalent to a touchdown in football) for the Exiles to help pave way to victory.

"This is my fourth year with the club and this is the best team I've played on," said Morris, a former football player and wrestler at Merrillville High School who was instantly captivated by the sport while passing by the pitch on his bike one Saturday afternoon and decided to give it a try — as well as score some "trys."

"We've got a lot of good young players this season," Morris said. "Like me, a lot of them are former athletes from the (Duneland Athletic Conference)."

Against Rockford, the Exiles were tenacious while defending their goal line as they turned away numerous threats yards and feet away from breaking through.

"This was one of our better efforts," said player/coach Tae' Ni Chang-Stroman, whose team held up amid humid conditions complemented with large mosquitoes.

"We still have a long way to go," Chang-Stroman said, "but like today, we play much better when we finally get everyone here."

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