News: JBLM Rugby kicks off the season
Story by Staff Sgt. David Chapman
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash.— Despite rain, snow and the cold Washington state winds, soldiers and civilians from across Joint Base Lewis-McChord came out for the start of joint Base Lewis-McChord’s rugby team, April 4.
The JBLM Dragons, comprised mostly of soldiers from various units across the garrison, spend their lunch hour working out and practicing team drills at Cowan Stadium. They are willing to give up that time during the week for the love of the sport.
“It has been some years since I had played last. It is a great way to get back to playing again. I see it as a good chance to come out and interact with guys from all over JBLM on an informal and friendly basis,” said Maj. Joe Kim, 1st Special Forces Group operations detachment commander.
To be part of the JBLM team, you only need the determination and dedication to work hard and play hard. Previous experience not required.
“There are no tryouts. We take everybody who comes to us. It doesn’t take much as long as you have played some sports before,” said Chief Warrant Officer Nick Punimata, Dragons head coach. “We take novice players and anyone who wants to play the game. Some who have started with us are now playing in bigger clubs across the country.”
As a spectator, some people may see rugby as a confusing jumble of humanity running around the field with a ball. Punimata, who is originally from American Samoa, says the children on his island are taught the sport of rugby early in life.
“I would tell people you just don’t know about this sport until you do it. Step out here on the field for five minutes and you will understand this game quickly. I usually describe it as a very adult version of keep away,” said Punimata. “You will get some great fitness from this sport, but you will also start to learn about your own capabilities and what your weaknesses are.”
The sport of rugby is not just about running around and having a good time. It benefits the Army workplace and also physical fitness for the soldiers who take part.
“Rugby is really just another form of PT [physical training] for those of us in the military. The great thing about the sport is it helps out as a form of leadership training as well,” said the coach. “We are here as a small group and you need leadership and communication to get the ball from one end of the field to the other. Communication and fitness is what makes this sport great.”
For one player this is his first year playing with the JBLM Dragons and is excited to have opportunity to play for the first time since his college days.
Despite being out of practice, Kim, who played while at Harvard Business School, was eager to get out and hit the field with the experienced members of the team.
“I could tell these guys had a lot of skill on the field, but it is still a lot of fun,” said Kim. “They know what they are doing, but are quick to share that experience with new guys who come to the team.”
Even though the team members have to dedicate a lot of their time and weekends to tournaments and games, they always try to keep the families involved.
“The great thing is all the tournaments we go to are family oriented. They are not that far away and the families come out to support us. It is just a good family atmosphere,” said Punimata, “We always try to maintain it as a good family outing, not the debauchery you sometimes hear about rugby.”
This year will be a first for the team and the post as they will host the first international rugby tournament on JBLM, with teams from Europe, Canada and across the U.S.
“We are really excited to be the host for the first ever international tournament done in the Pacific Northwest,” said Punimata. “We will have 16 teams in the tournament.”
For the coach and his team, winning is on their to-do list for this year along with educating people who are interested in the game and getting them out onto the field is at the top of his list.
“Our biggest goal this year is the spreading of the game. There are a lot of guys who think they understand the sport but really don’t. In this particular game it’s about understanding the field and the players you are competing against,” said Punimata.
For those interested in checking out or being part of the JBLM Dragons, visit their next practice at Cowan Stadium every Wednesday during the lunch hour.