Imagine for a moment that a casual fan of Badger sports is asked to name which program is the most successful on campus. What do you think they would answer?
It’s quite easy to picture them listing off some combination of sports that tend to get the most attention, namely football, basketball and hockey. Yet, the success of Badger sports doesn’t end there.
In fact, it doesn’t even end with official NCAA sports programs here in Madison.
Enter the University of Wisconsin club rugby team. With senior captain Malcolm Clark and senior president Mark Hermann leading the team, the Badgers have been able to accrue success at the conference and national level in recent years.
Much of this success is ultimately due to the interest in the sport on campus, Hermann said.
“We get a lot of people to show up through the org fair,” Hermann said. “I think we had 70 students show up this year and had around 25 of them show up to the practices.”
For a club sport with no varsity standing and no scholarships to give out, that’s a shockingly high turnout. This is due to the simple fact that the participants that come out for every year’s practices and rough games aren’t there for the more material benefits of collegiate sports.
Instead, they decide to join the team for largely the same reason — they want to continue to compete in a highly physical arena of sport. Clark explained his pitch to potential recruits.
“I talk to them as if I’m in their shoes,” Clark said. “I had no rugby experience but had played multiple sports before. I was looking to keep up the competition and contact sports that I missed.”
Like most club sports on campus, a love for competition and physicality drives participation. For many domestic students, rugby serves as an outlet for those who played similar sports in high school, mostly wrestling and football.
Yet, there exists another subset of the student population that is often more familiar with rugby than their fellow team members — international students.
“Last semester we had two guys from New Zealand come over,” Hermann said. “They might not expect us to do as well as we do, and they were a little surprised by how well we did.”
With such a wide breadth of backgrounds contributing to the team, as well as a common passion for raw competition, it is difficult to imagine that the Badgers’ club rugby team would be anything but successful.
In fact, last year was one of their best seasons in recent memory as they managed to take home the Big Ten title after a grueling fall season. The title came after repeated seasons in which the Badgers fell just short of making the championship game.
“It was awesome to accomplish that goal, as we had come so close over the past three years,” Hermann said.
The Badgers are a staple in Big Ten post season play. Last year was their year, as they finally took home the championship trophy.
Their success did not end there, though, as the Badgers made an appearance at the D1A national championship tournament after qualifying through their Big Ten victory.
While they ultimately fell to Lindenwood in that national tournament, their presence on arguably the biggest stage in college rugby demonstrates just how important this team is to the UW sports community.
To achieve this level of success, a certain level of dedication is needed from their top individual competitors. Multiple practices a week, traveling to games nearly every weekend of the season and occasional film sessions are all required of the best players on the team.
Even as this is the case for the team’s A side, those who wish to derive benefits from the team outside of success on the national level certainly have the opportunity to do so.
“You get to determine what level of commitment you want to put in since we have three teams,” Clark said. “If you want to make it a social thing and just come out and learn to play rugby, you can do that too. We always say that school comes first — there just needs to be that communication there.”
There’s a little bit of everything for anyone with the desire to become involved with the team. No matter what skill level you’re at or if you’ve ever even stepped on a rugby pitch before, there’s a spot for you on the team.
More importantly, the life-long benefits gained from competition with the club rugby team are accessible to anyone.
Clark detailed his own experience with this aspect of the team.
“I’ve really learned life skills that come with any sport but also from fulfilling a leadership role,” Clark said. “You get to contact a vast alumni network of hundreds and hundreds of people that stay involved with the program.”
No matter the success of the rugby team on the field, it offers a diverse set of benefits for all those who seek to continue their history with competition while also potentially picking up a new sport along the way.
For Clark and Hermann, leading this team is an extremely beneficial experience through which they get to take on crucial roles in a sport they developed a love for.
If you’re interested in taking part in this incredibly unique and successful organization, look for the club rugby at student org events or follow their progress on Twitter @BadgerRug.