Kicking Off Summer

As the days get hot and the sunlight stretches Louisville days to a nearly ludicrous length, many people are looking for a little something to keep them busy. While some may hike or fish, or just sit in the sun and bask, others will look to sports.

Lots of people have a favorite pick-up game of basketball they regularly visit, and the tennis courts around town stay busy. But we at The Voice-Tribune wanted to check in on some of the lesser-known sports around town and chat with some of the passionate people who keep these clubs, teams and leagues running. While there’s nothing wrong with good ol’ UofL and UK basketball, take a look at some of the more diverse offerings around the city: rugby, ultimate and women’s football.


Photo by ADAM CREECH

Photo by ADAM CREECH

Rugby

With its origins stretching back to the early 1800s, rugby has never caught on in America quite the same way that other sports have. Outsiders often think of it as football without pads. Expect a lot more people to be talking about it this summer though.

“It is going to be in the Olympics this year for the first time since 1924, when the U.S. actually won,” says Louisville Rugby President Joe Parrish.

According to Parrish, “Louisville Rugby is one of the oldest clubs in America. They were formed in 1969, and they’ve been a part of the Midwest Rugby Union since the mid-’70s.” But don’t let their history and pedigree put you off. “We’re open to the public. We do have guys who walk in off the street having never played before, just as I did myself in 2009,” says Parrish.

Photo by ADAM CREECH

Photo by ADAM CREECH

While it’s open to first-timers, there are some stakes involved in the regional competitions that Louisville Rugby attends and hosts: “It’s a step above a local beer league. There is something you are playing toward, a national championship, every year.”

Parrish insists that the public perception of how rugby works is wrong. “A very common misconception of rugby is it’s football without pads, that [the players] are crazy out there without the pads. As I learned quickly, any football skills I had did not translate at all – the tackling is a lot smarter.”

Parrish adds that players never lead with their heads, so there are fewer concussions than in football. “Players play under control instead of out of control,” he describes.

He says it’s something you have to watch to understand, and with the Olympics coming up, maybe Parrish and the other members of Louisville Ruby will have a lot more people walking in.

Their official league play runs from fall to spring, but they stay busy all summer and say it’s an ideal time to come learn the skills and get in shape. Go check it out at Cherokee Park at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday nights.

For more information on Louisville Rugby, visit louisvillerugby.com.


Ultimate

Back when people were just reusing pie pans and tossing them around for fun, somebody came up with the idea of turning the lazy pastime into a sport.

Once the harder plastic disks were invented, the games got a little more serious, and in the late 1960s, the term “Ultimate Frisbee” started being used to describe the game, which is something like a cross between football and soccer but with a flying disc. It’s gotten more competitive over the years with national club teams and codified rules. The game has since dropped the trademarked word “Frisbee” and is now known simply as ultimate.

Photo courtesy of Louisville Ultimate Frisbee Association

Photo courtesy of Louisville Ultimate Frisbee Association

In Derby City, the Louisville Ultimate Frisbee Association (LUFA) has grown to as many as 22 teams that play four seasons a year.

Ray Yeager, LUFA’s current president, first got into ultimate in high school: “I played very casually in high school – we had an ultimate club. Then I went to UofL and somebody came around with hand-out flyers for the league.”

Yeager also plays on a local club team that competes with clubs in other cities. While some members of LUFA are longtime players, many are more relaxed “Anybody can show up to our leagues,” he says.

Photo courtesy of Louisville Ultimate Frisbee Association

Photo courtesy of Louisville Ultimate Frisbee Association

The rules are pretty simple to pick up. Teams face each other on a long field, pretty similar to a football field. Each try to move the disc down the field to the other team’s end zone. One of the challenges of the game is that unlike soccer and football, there is no running with the disc – once you catch it, you have to stay put until you throw it.

Obviously, you want to throw it fast before you get swarmed. What results is a fast-paced game with quick cuts down the field, various defensive and offensive styles and a lot of running. “It’s great exercise,” asserts Yeager. “It’s all the exercise I could ever ask for.”

Like many of the sporting teams and leagues in Louisville, the culture and the camaraderie of ultimate is just as important to the participants as the game itself. “Everybody is really nice, really relaxed,” says Yeager.

In the spring, the league’s teams split into competitive and recreational – a split they’ll make for next summer’s season as well. That way, the players who are a little more intense can have a game that challenges them without keeping less-experienced players off the field.

LUFA holds periodic clinics to work on the basics for newbies who want to have some skills before they show up for their first game. Yeager also points to a large number of pick-up games all over the city.

The league is additionally trying to expand its offerings for high-schoolers; they currently have several high school teams. Yeager claims that ultimate is popular in schools but doesn’t always have institutional support. “Because it’s not a traditional sport, a lot of the athletic directors don’t really care about ultimate,” he says.

Yeager imagines a day that traditional high-school rivalries can be played out ultimate style. “You could have St. X versus Trinity, or Manual versus Male.”

For more information on the Louisville Ultimate Frisbee Association, follow them on Facebook at facebook.com/louisvilleultimatefrisbeeassociation.


Photo courtesy of Derby City Dynamite

Photo courtesy of Derby City Dynamite

Women’s Football

“We like to think that a woman can do anything that a man can do,” says Thelma Banks, owner, offensive coach and center of the Derby City Dynamite.

The Dynamite is Louisville’s lady tackle football team, a member in good standing of the Women’s Football Alliance, a national organization.

Banks, known as T Banks to her players, says that while the sport is still broadly misunderstood, the action is real. “I promise if you come to a game, you will see some absolutely amazing hits. However, it’s on a different level than the men. To me, the women are more about finesse and technique.”

Banks has been playing tackle football for 11 years, starting with the Kentucky Karma, a previous Louisville team that shut down in 2011. After the Karma called it quits, Banks and several other players started the Dynamite.

Photo courtesy of Derby City Dynamite

Photo courtesy of Derby City Dynamite

The players on the team range in age from 18 to 43 with Banks being the oldest participant currently playing, though they’ve had even older players in the past: “The oldest we’ve ever had – there was a mother-daughter combo – one was 50, one was 18,” Banks recounts.

The sport is growing according to Banks as part of a national shift that includes several changes. More girls are playing football as kids, and even the NFL is changing with its first female coaches joining the game. They play by NCAA rules using the same standards and protections.

It comes as no surprise that not everyone is supportive of the idea of more women in football or a women’s tackle league. “I had a referee one year tell us, ‘I think you should be in the kitchen cooking somewhere instead of out here. This sport is too rough for you,’” Banks remembers.

Despite detractors, Banks believes the nation-wide growth will continue, noting, “The WNBA had to start somewhere.” There are over 100 teams playing nationally with some games drawing over 1,000 people.

In the summer, the Dynamite takes it easy. “We do Work Out Wednesdays – we get together and do agility.” Banks offers that, like Louisville Rugby, this is an ideal time for newcomers to see what it’s all about. “It gives girls the opportunity to see what it’s like before they make an actual commitment.”

For more information on Derby City Dynamite, visit derbycitydynamite.com.


These sports are just a few examples of the fun you can get into out there. And there are no doubt even stranger things, though a quick search of the U.S. Quidditch website shows their closest team is in Evansville. But hey, maybe you can start one here.

By ELI KEEL, Contributing Writer