Expected USAvMaoriABs sold-out crowd can take in deaf rugby match in Philadelphia
"At the end of the day, I think we all want to be known as rugby players."
The All Deaf Rugby Football Club took the field for the first time a little over one year ago - Sept. 19, 2012. Wearing borrowed jerseys from the Washington Rugby Club, as well as utilizing a few of the club's players to fill out the squad, All Deaf lost to the Washington Renegades' Division III B team. This past spring, the All Deaf battled the Renegades' A team. They lost again, but not as badly and to better competition.
"We have come a long way since that first 15s match," All Deaf President Mark Burke said.
Burke started a high school program at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in 2009 and founded the All Deaf Rugby Football Club. The two programs make up the constituency of deaf rugby in America, but the interest is growing.
"The interest in our club has increased as we have had many new players come and give rugby a try," Burke said. "They have varied from college students to older adults who were looking for a physical sport."
Burke is also a USA Rugby Level One-certified referee, having completed the Level One Officiating course earlier this year. The respect he has received from all facets of the rugby community has been overwhelming, but Burke's immediate plans are to continue playing and coaching for his club.
All Deaf finished the 2013 spring season 6-4 with a Pax River's Celtic Cup championship and looks forward to the upcoming high-profile match against North Penn Rugby Football Club on a field in Hatfield, Penn., Saturday, Nov. 9, prior to the Men's Eagles' match-up with the New Zealand Maori All Blacks in Philadelphia. The match will kick off at 11:00 A.M. ET.
"First and foremost, we want to show that deaf people can play and compete with anyone," All Deaf Secretary and Treasurer Roberto Santiago said. "We're more than a feel-good story; our goal is to compete first at a local, then a national, then an international level.
"I also think our guys play with an enhanced sense of pride and determination, because they know they're representing their community."
All Deaf had the opportunity to give back to the rugby community this fall with a match against the Washington Scandals, a gay rugby club. All Deaf defeated the Scandals 103-0.
"We were happy to have played them as it allowed them to gain playing experience," Burke said. "As with any new clubs, they will struggle in the beginning. They were still optimistic about their play after the match and look to improve through the season.
"We are still a new club, now entering our second year. We have just been very fortunate to do really well. This is the kind of enthusiasm we're building on for our club to be successful."
All Deaf Rugby Football Club was not able to join the new geographical union this year for various reasons, so setting up the match against the Scandals served a higher purpose than to match up a club of deaf or hard of hearing players against a club of homosexual players.
"At the end of the day, I think we all want to be known as rugby players," Santiago said. "It's one of the things that makes rugby such a great sport - the community is very inclusive and supportive."
Burke said there are plenty of deaf women's rugby players hoping to start a club in the Washington, D.C., area, as well. Maggie Hoyt and Leslye Kang led a team of deaf and hard of hearing women in a controlled scrimmage last month against the Frederick Women's Rugby Club.
With thousands of rugby fans flocking to Philadelphia in November for the Black and Blue Match, the All Deaf Rugby Football Club is ready to showcase its viability as a rugby team and grow the game for those wishing to play despite being deaf or hard of hearing.
"Every match we play in is extremely important for us as we move forward in the growth of deaf rugby," Burke said. "The impact of us playing is huge, but at the end of the day we're just regular guys playing rugby. I think [fans] will come away realizing that we're not any different than the hearing people and be impressed with the athletes we have on the club."
Tickets for the Black and Blue Match are selling fast, with only around 3,000 tickets remaining.
"We're extremely excited to be a part of the festivities leading up to the Philadelphia match," Burke said. "We hope after that match and our association with USA Rugby that weekend will give us another added boost to our long-term goals - to enter the Capitol Rugby Union for league play and to bring us closer to the formation of the USA Deaf National Team competing versus other Deaf International Teams."