There is an old English adage that “Soccer is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans”, and “Rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen.” While I don’t necessarily agree with the former, (I know a few soccer players and they are hail fellows well met as a Brit might tell you), I can say with certainty that the latter is absolutely true and that Rugby players are ladies and gentlemen to the core. Ask anyone who has ever been to an after party. I will now remove my tongue from my cheek and move on.
Rugby Football, at least the Union Fifteens and Sevens variety is alive and well in Pittsburgh. Actually, it has been alive and well in the ‘Burgh for a very long time. Yes, it has evolved or from some rugger perspectives, devolved from the legendary days of Rooster Heads, Tooters, and things being mounted onto pike poles, but from my perspective Rugby is this city’s shining unknown gem.
In the late seventies and early eighties, the Pittsburgh Rugby Club was the big deal, followed by the membership of the Allegheny Rugby Union which included sides such as the Pittsburgh Harlequins, South Pittsburgh, and the Westmoreland Highlanders (I played in that club’s very first game in which we were thoroughly trounced by the Tooters and I will say no more). Even the A-side in those heady days of the ARU were motley crews.
Now though, the Harlequins have Founders Field, which is an incredibly well laid out facility located not far from Hartwood Acres. The campus matches any Rugby specific stadium in the country in my opinion. Beyond that, the Harlequins are a Division One side. So if you have nothing better to do on an early fall or late spring afternoon, you’d choose far worse than to check out some of the top talents the sport has to offer regionally.
If you are thinking of playing, don’t let the Division One status intimidate you. The Harlequins take in players of all skill levels including beginners, and if your playing days are over, or you have kids interested in the game, the Harlequins have a youth mentoring program that is also top shelf.
The Harlequins are impressive, and as a Pittsburgher and long-time rugby player (from a long time ago), I am proud of what they have accomplished since those early days, but at least half of my heart belongs to the Pittsburgh Forge. I say that because the Forge is a brand new amalgamation of two very old and traditional clubs.
The Pittsburgh Rugby Club, as mentioned earlier, had at one time been the bad boys on the block on the Pittsburgh Rugby scene. In fact, they were highly competitive and a force to be reckoned with all the way up to the merger, but it is the other half of the merger for which I have given my own blood. The Pittsburgh Highlanders evolved from the Westmoreland Highlanders, which began as the Westmoreland Rugby Club.
Now the Highlanders and the Pittsburgh RFC have merged into the Pittsburgh Forge, whom I am certain will themselves play D1 before very long. The Forge has a powerful Women’s program, and the Men’s side, which is led in part by Bill Marnell, whom I consider one of the best young coaches and sports administrators that I have personally met, in most certainly destined for big things.
The Forge play in the highly competitive MRU and are welcoming both men and women into their D2 and D3 programs. If you have never played the game, but have wanted to give it a go, reaching out to the Forge is a really smart first step for sure.