Feeling Found: Lost Souls Rugby Football Club

Like many great ideas, the concept of the Lost Souls Rugby Football Club was first envisioned over drinks. Sitting in an Irish pub in Dallas, Todd Maria and friends Patric Alva, Caleb Hand and AJ Tello were reminiscing about their former playing days. The four had played rugby together in the past but had all lost touch with the game over the years, be it due to injury or scheduling conflicts with their full-time jobs. While basking in the nostalgia of rugby moments passed, Maria pitched a wild idea - what if they were to start their own rugby club?

"The initial response was a definite no," says Maria as he recalled the club's genesis. "But we talked about how could change up the model - no player dues, practice just once a week...we could meet the needs of ruggers who are working or who want to play but can't devote all of their free time to the game." A few drinks later, the four committed to making it happen.

Unsurprisingly, founding a non-traditional rugby club proved to be a more challenging undertaking than the group initially suspected. Maria, Alva, Hand and Tello knew they wanted their club to revolve around three main pillars that would separate them from other social rugby clubs - players would not pay dues, the club would be inclusive and welcoming to all, and the team would be actively involved in the community. In order to make these tenets possible, the founders began seeking sponsors. Maria, now President of Lost Souls RFC, explained, "When we started looking for sponsorship, initially it was very challenging. When we approached local bars we knew, people laughed at the idea. They didn't think rugby players would connect with the pillars of the club." Fortunately, Lost Souls RFC found Round-Up Saloon, a local Dallas bar who has been a title sponsor of the club for since its earliest stages.

Lost Souls Founding Members (Aj Tello, Todd Maria, Patric Alva, Caleb Hand), Bingham Cup, Nashville, 2016.

While they were first outlining the structure of their new club, the team didn't have a name. Maria began to get emotional as he told the story of the origin of the unique nomenclature. "It's been such a journey," he explained. "Originally I wanted the name to be 'Las Almas' ('the Souls' in Spanish) but we needed to make sure it resonated with everyone regardless of cultural background. One day we were chilling on a trail and came up with 'The Lost Souls.' We had all felt lost at some point. Rugby provides structure, stability and brotherhood. We want everyone to experience that."

With the name and title sponsor in place, the founders got to work to legitimize the club and recruit players. Maria got his coaching certification and a diverse mix of players with different abilities and backgrounds began attending practices. From there, the club found its place in the community. In accordance with one of the main tenets of the club's foundation - community service - the team aligned themselves with various organizations through which they felt they could make an impact. During their inaugural 2012-13 season, the club hosted a Season Kick-off Party and School Supply Drive benefitting a local preschool, a Thanksgiving Lunch Service for the Resource Center of Dallas and an Ugly Sweater Holiday Party and Toy Drive benefitting a center for at-risk youth. These events have been held annually since, and the club has also added several other community service events to their calendar including an annual canned goods drive and a book drive for a local elementary school to promote literacy. Most recently, the club started a sock drive benefitting an organization that helps LGBTQ youth affected by homelessness. "I'm so proud of the work we do in the community. Our toy drive last year brought in more than 600 toys, ensuring every child [at the school] got a gift for the holidays," Maria says. "As we've gotten more players and increased our footprint of service, people in the community have seen it and they want to be part of it."

Lost Souls serving Thanksgiving lunch at the Dallas Resource Center

Beyond their community service, Lost Souls RFC has been recognized again and again for the positive affect they've had on the community. For the last four years, they have been named Best LGBT Sports Team through the "Dallas Voice" Readers Voice Awards. Maria shares, "We want everyone to feel at home regardless of skill, age, background or sexual orientation. We want people to feel welcomed and show them that they can be loved in an environment that is supportive."

Despite their focus on community service and inclusiveness - and their relatively light practice schedule - Lost Souls RFC still manages to dominate on the pitch. This summer, the team will travel to Amsterdam to defend their Challenger Cup title at the Bingham Cup, the world championship of gay and inclusive men's and women's rugby. The tournament honors Mark Kendall Bingham, a rugger who was aboard the United Airlines flight hijacked on September 11, 2001, on its way to San Francisco. Along with several other passengers aboard the flight, Bingham overpowered the hijackers, ultimately causing the plane to go down in an empty field in Pennsylvania instead of the suspected target of the White House or the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. A testament to Bingham's passion for the game, the biennial rugby competition has drawn inclusive teams from across the globe since 2002.

"This will be the second time our team is entering the tournament, and we're the Division III defending champions," says Maria. "We attended in 2016 in Nashville for the first time as a full squad, and we kicked ass. We won all six of our matches and played against some tough international teams."

The club looks forward to exploring Amsterdam, meeting members of other inclusive rugby clubs, and of course, kicking some more ass.

Lost Souls RFC Pride Match with Crescent City Rougaroux, September 2017

Follow Lost Souls RFC's community service and Bingham Cup experience on Facebook!