By Jed May
Playing rugby at a university that doesn’t offer it as a varsity sport can be an expensive proposition.
Teams organized by a school’s recreation department are often called club sports and their players don’t receive scholarships. Instead, they pay dues to join the team, and are also responsible for paying for everything from hotel stays on road trips to their jerseys and game balls.
Christian Schoeberl, a University of Georgia student who serves as the rugby club’s team president, said the relative obscurity of the sport in the United States leads to extra costs such as flying in new game balls from overseas.
Team dues, which are around $150 per semester, help pay for more expensive items like hotel costs. The dues also help pay for coaches and provide academic scholarships that members of the team are eligible to receive.
Schoeberl, a third-year economics and international affairs major, said the dues have been kept lower than they otherwise would be due to an extensive alumni network that supports the Georgia club rugby team.
“They’re amazingly helpful,” Schoeberl said. “Anything we can ever need is just kind of go to them and ask. If you have a good reason for needing it, they’ll help you out.”
Having been around since 1967, the rugby team has a larger alumni network than other club sports. The alumni help pay for items such as jerseys and game balls, as well as equipment such as tackle bags and other training equipment, said head coach Scott Littlejohn in an interview over text message.
The alumni association also funds five $1,000 academic scholarships for players it deems worthy every year.
Even with dues being kept low, there are interested students who can’t afford to pay the dues necessary to join the team. For those students, the alumni network has programs in place to help.
Schoeberl said one is called the “work grant” program where players can go to the houses of alumni around Athens and perform yard work or odd jobs in exchange for reduced dues. Schoeberl also said players can stay after practice to clean facilities as way to offset the cost of their dues.
“It’s dumb to not let somebody play because of a hundred bucks,” Schoeberl said.
The team tries to repay the alumni for enhancing the club rugby experience. For example, Schoeberl said the team hosts and pays for an alumni weekend every semester in Athens for former and current players to get together and talk about the state of the team.
The networking applies to jobs in the real world as well. Schoeberl said he is considering law school after he completes his undergraduate, and he’s spoken with several members of the alumni board who are currently lawyers about how to be successful in the field.
“Every community has rugby or ex-rugby players,” Littlejohn said over text. “This helps the boys in future endeavors.”
Upon his graduation, Schoeberl intends on joining in the alumni support.
“One day I’ll be an [alumnus], and I know I’m going to be sitting at home just bored out of my mind,” Schoeberl said. “I’m going to be like, ‘All right, what does UGA rugby need from me right now?’”
Jed May is a journalism student at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.