February 15, 2013 | by Kevin Majoros
Nice and rough
Washington Renegades, gay news, Washington Blade

The Washington Renegades at last year’s pride. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Washington is home to the Washington Renegades, a Division III rugby union football club. They are members of the Potomac Rugby Union and USA Rugby.

Established in 1998 by Mark Hertzog, the Renegades were the first men’s rugby club in the United States to actively recruit gay men and men of color. Its mission is to learn, teach and play rugby along with forging new friendships, celebrating differences and giving back to the community.

The current member base of the Renegades (dcrugby.com) is around 45 players with an age range from 20s to 50s. Members have two seasons and the group is divided into two squads.

The fall season runs from August to November and consists of league matches within the Potomac Rugby Union. The Reds squad is their developmental team and plays matches within the league on an exhibition basis.

The Blues squad is the competitive squad whose players compete for a chance to advance from the Potomac Rugby Union to the regional championships within the Mid Atlantic Rugby Union. From there, winners can advance to the USA Rugby national championships which are contested in May each year.

The spring season consists of friendly matches within the International Gay Rugby Association and Board. This group sponsors the Bingham Cup which is held every two years and is named for Mark Bingham.

Bingham was a former Association rugby player from California and a passenger on the 9-11 United Airlines Flight 93 which crashed near Shanksville, Pa., as those aboard tried to take control of the aircraft from the hijackers. Many experts believe the aircraft was headed for impact at the Capitol Building or the White House.

The Renegades feel a special connection with Bingham who had participated in tournaments that they had hosted in D.C. They have competed in every Bingham Cup since its inception with the next tournament being held in Sydney, Australia in 2014.

The Renegades frequently travel and have played tournaments in such varied places as New York, Dublin, Charlotte, San Francisco and Manchester. The Renegades Reds squad is the two time defending champions of Hellfest in Dallas.

“There is a false stereotype in the sport of Rugby,” says Renegades President Ned Kieloch. “Most people believe that all rugby players are big and burly. The best teams consist of players of all shapes and sizes.”

The Renegades do their recruiting of various sized players through events at sports bars and gyms as well as through Team D.C.’s Sportsfest.

To groom new players, the Renegades offer Rugby 101 clinics, skills clinics and one-on-one coaching to develop player skills.

“Some of the rookies we have recruited have gone on to become real contributors on our competitive squads,” Kieloch says.

The Renegades have a long and varied history of giving back to the community. In past years they have been involved in things such as toy drives, food drives, 9-11 fundraisers and skills clinics for kids.

“The mix of straight and gay players on the Renegades squad has resulted in our straight players being wonderful advocates for the LGBT community,” Kieloch says. “Together, we build bridges.”

The spring season for the Renegades will kick off with practice at Cardozo High School on Tuesday.

The first tournament of the season will be on March 23 in New York City as they compete in the Four Leaf 15s Tournament. The event will draw about 1,500 players from overseas and domestically.

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