Miami has always been a football town, but in recent years, the sport of rugby has been growing in popularity and making its mark in South Florida.
The Miami Rugby Football Club, which is one of at least two adult men’s rugby clubs in Miami, was established in 1969 and began as a club that faced off against sailors from visiting British navy ships. Most of its members were of western European heritage.
Now, more than 40 years later, the club reflects how much the ethnic diversity has grown in Miami.
Gerardo Ferraris, the club’s coach, is originally from Argentina and has been a member of the club since 1997. He says that sharing a common goal is what builds relationships despite differences in culture.
“I have found some of my best friends in this club,” said Ferraris, 48. “Everybody who wears our colors, regardless of job, background or country, does it for the love of the game, and that’s all that matters.”
Miguel Lindsay, 30, who is of Jamaican descent, has been on the team for six years and says the comradery among players from all over the world is the most gratifying part of being a member of the club.
“All of the guys coming from all different backgrounds to form a family is a special thing,” he said. “It shows you that even though you’re so different, you’re still the same. No matter where you’re from, there is always a place for you in rugby.”
For Leon Wilson, who came from South Africa six years ago and is in his fourth year with the club, the level of competition is what drives him to play in this league.
“The competition in Miami itself is extremely good,” said Wilson, 30. “You can’t compete with the same level. You have to compete with a higher level to grow faster.”
After a disappointing season last year, the club dedicated itself to bouncing back and issued a little payback to the opponents who had their number last season. Their overall record was 11-1 this time around, and they finished in first place among Division II teams in the Florida Rugby Union, the Florida branch of USA Rugby.
Their last regular season game was Saturday on their home field at Amelia Earhart Park in Hialeah against their cross-town rival, the Miami Tridents, which resulted in a 17-5 victory. The club will host the Tampa Bay Krewe for the first round of the playoffs on April 5.
Carlos Jelves, who moved to South Florida from Chile 13 years ago, has been a member of the club for eight years and looks forward to the competitiveness the playoffs has to offer.
“It’s really competitive out here,” Jelves said. “The heart and guts that everyone puts out on that field is amazing.”
For some players, the brutality of a full-contact sport without the protection of pads can take its toll.
Danny Hsieh, who is originally from Taiwan, has dealt with just about every injury a person can get while playing the sport he loves.
He talked about some of the bumps and bruises the sport of rugby has offered him.
“I’ve torn my MCL, Achilles tendon, and I’ve had numerous head injuries,” said Hsieh, who is also the team’s treasurer. “It’s a physical sport, but the friendships you build are what make it worth it.”
The popularity of the sport, which is most popular in Europe, is continuing to grow in Miami with Florida International University and the University of Miami creating men’s and women’s teams for each school, as well as several youth programs being created.