Written by Ens. Vincent Nitopi
After a 92 year absence, rugby finally made its return to the Olympics. This year also marked the 5th annual Armed Forces Rugby Tournament, which is a smaller tournament within the Serevi Rugbytown Sevens tournament that recently took place in Glendale, Colo. Rugby is the only sport that all five branches of the military compete individually and is also the only team sport that the Coast Guard currently fields.
The added excitement of rugby returning as an Olympic sport helped drive recruitment. This year’s team welcomed 31 applications that led to 16 invites to training camp. The group went through an intensive training camp, which solidified the 12 man roster. The team is comprised of active duty and reserves, officer and enlisted, as well as many different ratings, communities and geographic locations. The sport provides an opportunity for the team to transcend a typical command structure and relies on performance to achieve team goals.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Jethro Hauser, an aviation survival technician, was selected to lead as the team captain. He humbly accepted the position, thanking all of those who wore the crest before him. Although he is one of the more junior members on the team, his rugby experience is nearly unmatched. One of the biggest challenges that he faced, as well as the team in general, was building camaraderie in a very short amount of time. Leading by example, Hauser immediately worked to break down some of the military barriers and mold the group from a unit mentality into a rugby team. His proactive approach of team building helped to quickly gel them.
His leadership and play on the field did not go unnoticed and he was selected to the All Armed Forces Team. The team is selected by the armed forces coaches, and will go on to compete in various tournaments throughout the country. Hauser will join members from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps.
Prior to the tournament, the team held scrimmages with the Royal Air Force, a perennial powerhouse from England, and Stars Rugby 7’s, which is a select side made up of the best players from Florida. The results of both games were promising, but unfortunately the team fell short and was unable to win the Armed Forces Tournament. Lt. Cmdr. JD McManus added “Anyone who watched the games knows that three of our matches could have gone either way, and unfortunately we ended on the wrong side of each. There were points during this tournament which I’ve seen some of our past sides fall apart. I’m extremely proud of our team’s response to pressure and look forward to next year.”
When asked what representing the Coast Guard on the rugby pitch meant to him, Lt. Cmdr. Keith Wilkins said he is “Honored every time I get to wear our jersey and bare our crest over my heart. It never gets old and is only more special every time I get to do it at this point.”
Petty Officer 2nd Class Eric Geckas, a machinery technician, summed up why he takes the time to play for the Coast Guard team by saying, “Most people join an armed service for the team feel and to represent an organization with work and their way of life. To get the opportunity to be 1 of 12 men representing Coast Guard puts a feeling in your chest of pride and once you have that feeling it’s hard to say no or to stop trying to get that feeling.”
After the completion of day two of the tournament, Lt. Drew Somplasky represented the Coast Guard, along with a member of each branch of the armed services, to honor fallen rugby players.
Although rugby is the main focus, members of the team also made time to represent the Coast Guard and volunteer within the local community. This year, members visited Children’s Hospital Colorado. “We were able to talk about rugby, promote the Coast Guard, bring joy and lighten the mood for the patients and their families,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Post, a marine science technician. Petty Officer 3rd Class Brendan Davis, an aviation survival technician, added, “Seeing the joy and smiles that we brought to the children was an awesome experience.”
The team is always looking for new members. To get more information please reach out to CGRugby@uscg.mil.
Coach – Sean “Snacks” Lindersmith
Officer In Charge – LCDR JD McManus
- AST3 James Chandler
- MK2 John Curtiss
- AST3 Brendan Davis
- MK2 Eric Geckas
- AST3 Jethro Hauser
- AST3 Dan Kellam
- SK3 Mitch Moretti
- ENS Vinny Nitopi
- MST3 Eric Post
- LT Drew Somplasky
- YN2 Alex Vinkavich
- LCDR Keith Wilkins
- MST3 Rob Miller
- BM2 Roy Edwards
Well done, Coast Guard Rugby Team!