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Madison Minotaurs bring diversity and community to the pitch

Post by Kathleen Kosiec on 4/13/2012 9:55am


One of the most common questions asked about rugby concerns the difference between rugby and football. Rugby is sometimes erroneously described as “football without pads” or associated with a high injury rate, as well as a slightly esoteric perception from its popularity in Europe. However, while rugby is a contact sport (and there will be injuries in any contact sport) rugby is much more than simply football without pads.

Besides dominating on the rugby pitch, the Madison Minotaurs dispel some of the misconceptions Americans may have about rugby while providing Madisonians a chance to try a new sport.

The Madison Minotaurs hosted Dane101 at their indoor practice at the East Side Madison Community Center earlier this year. Dane101's Shane Wealti interviewed the team in 2007 when the Minotaurs first formed. Since 2007, the team has attracted more members and is currently a member of the rugby organizations Madison United, Wisconsin Rugby Football Union, IGRAB (International Gay Rugby Association and Board) and USA Rugby. The Minotaurs won the 2011 Midwest IGRAB invitational last year and the 2011 Dirty Rugger Beaver Bowl Tournament in Toronto.

Rugby consists of two 40 minute halves, and play is fairly continuous, stopping only for penalties and serious injuries. Each team consists of 15 players. Eight forwards focus on possession of the ball, and the seven backs focus on moving the ball forward. Points are scored by touching the ball in the other team's in-goal area and also from follow up kicks and penalty kicks. A more comprehensive overview of the game, as well as specific rules and positions can be found in the USA rugby spectator guide, available on the Minotaurs website.

While the origins of the mythological creature the minotaur are Greek, the origins of the decision to name the rugby club the Minotaurs is more mysterious. The original name proposed in 2007 was the Madison Milkmen, but it soon became apparent that the name didn't fit the team. At some point “minotaur” was tossed around and the team liked the association with the misunderstood mythological creature possessing great physical strength.

Each week, the Minotaurs work on improving their physical strength through Coach Adam Thimmig's practice drills, developed in part from studying Soviet training of understanding how humans react to stress for strength training. There are almost always new drills in every practice to keep things engaging for the team.

“It is worth noting that our team is an interesting mix of new players and veterans,” said Ben Coblentz. (position: flanker) “Adam has adapted and come up with an effective practice and training routine that is effective for these players as well as those veterans who require additional challenges to stay engaged.”

Tim Lom (position: lock) agreed. “They way that Adam approaches our drills makes it possible so that anybody can do them or understand the concept behind them,” he added.

After spending several hours watching rugby practice, it's apparent that rugby is much more than a hobby or a way to keep in shape for the players. The players come to the Minotaurs from all walks of life, gay or straight. For Michael Cole (position: prop), he discovered rugby while living in Toronto, and after dealing with some difficult life experiences after coming out, he credits his devotion to rugby as a way to deal with a difficult time in his life. “Rugby saved my life,” said Cole when asked why he plays rugby.

Tim Lom was introduced to rugby by a friend who mentioned a gay rugby club formed in Madison, and his curiosity about rugby prompted him to try it. Originally from Green Bay, Lom grew up with a tumultuous relationship with sports. “I was sensitive, bookish, I played video games and didn't think of doing anything physical,” he explained.

“I didn't realize what I was missing out on by not doing those things earlier on life,” said Lom. An opportunity to learn teamwork and find a sense of camaraderie helped fill in those gaps. Lom is currently president of the Madison Minotaurs.

Coach Adam Thimmig comes from a extensive rugby background. He spent three years playing for the UW rugby team before starting as the Minotaurs coach last year. An athlete involved in judo and martial arts,  a friend introduced him to rugby. He describes it as a sport whose players possess an intense emotional involvement with the sport.

While the Minotaurs do refer to themselves as a gay rugby club, they encourage anyone, regardless of sexual orientation to try it. While the majority of the players are gay, and the Minotaurs do have events at gay-friendly establishments such as the Shamrock Bar, the Minotaurs welcome everyone who wants to play.

Thimmig is quick to defend the Minotaurs, especially when he detects any negativity upon telling people about coaching a predominantly gay team. “If I were to judge the athletic or physical qualities of the team, nothing would lead you to believe any negative stereotypes,” said Thimmig.

“It's no more defining than a straight team defining as straight,”  added Tim Lom. “We are who we are and you don't have time to think of matters as trivial as sexuality when you're on the field.”

Coach Thimmig observed, “Regardless of what someone wants to do and represent, the topic does not come up, that's the greatest thing. It's a nonissue. The idea is to create an environment that is supportive, and you can't segregate it."

The Minotaurs credit the supportive and open-minded community culture of Madison as one of the reasons why they are so successful. “There is a community spirit, a community element in Madison that is unique and the spirit of rugby fits very well within that,” said Ben Coblentz.

In June, the Minotaurs will travel overseas to compete in the the Bingham Cup. Held every two years, the Bingham Cup was named for Mark Bingham, a passenger who died on 9/11 on United Flight 93 when it crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Bingham, a rugby champion who made his reputation with the Cal Tech rugby team and later the San Francisco Fog, was one of the passengers who thwarted the terrorists from their target of the White House by storming the cockpit and taking control of the airliner. This is the second Bingham Cup appearance for the Minotaurs and while they will have to travel farther than Minneapolis this time, the players have been hard at work fundraising and selling Minotaurs t-shirts and calendars. It is also an opportunity for the team to interact with more rugby players, bonding over the sport which brings players together all over the world.

“You can be a rugger from anywhere and you have that in common, a basis for friendship,” said Adam Duvall. (position: hooker)

For more information about the Madison Minotaurs, including practice times and venues, please visit their website or their Facebook page. Practice is currently held every Monday and Thursday evening from 5:45pm until 7:45pm at the Crossroads Pitch on Hwy AB and the Yahara “Dump” practice field. More details are found on the practice calendar.

Video by Adam Story

Kathleen (Kat) moved to the Madison area in 2006 to complete her Bachelor's degree at UW-Madison. After graduation, Kat found herself unable to leave Dane County, mostly due to her love of the local culinary scene, the farmer's markets, roller derby and the dismal job prospects for a foolish young woman who chose to major in journalism. So she decided to stay and get her master's in library science. Visit Kat at her website.